There was plenty to frown at during Real Madrid’s 3-0 win over rivals Atletico Madrid in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey match.
From Alvaro Arbeloa slyly scraping his studs down the back of Diego Costa’s calf, to Pepe blowing his nose at the same player—a few called it theatre; many a shambles.
But the most reprehensible act was committed after the final whistle. Real Madrid substitute Marcelo was on the pitch conducting his warm down when he was was spotted by a group of Atletico fans.
According to reports by Pete Jenson of the Daily Mail and Sid Lowe of the Guardian, between 500 and 600 fans launched into monkey chants aimed at the player. When the Brazilian left-back looked up at them, they began to sing: “Marcelo is a monkey.”
And after his young boy ran out to hug him, they changed their tune, calling out: “May your father die.”
Brutal, horrible, disgusting monkey chants at Marcelo by the Atletico fans while he & the other Madrid subs do their warm down. Inexcusable— Graham Hunter (@BumperGraham) February 5, 2014
Before the start of the match there had been a period of reflection to honour former Atletico and Spain manager Luis Aragones, who had passed away a few days earlier.
At the weekend, when Atletico Madrid topped the La Liga, not long after Aragones’ death, it seemed a fitting tribute to the Spaniard, recognised as a magnificent manager and the man who helped Spain break their trophy drought.
But in England, the first time many had heard of him had been four years before Spain’s Euro 2008 triumph—an incident which will forever be recalled when Aragones’ name is mentioned.
In a Spanish training session he tried to motivate Jose Antonio Reyes, telling him to out-do his Arsenal team-mate Thierry Henry. Aragones roared at Reyes, as reported by the Daily Mail: "Tell that black s--- [Henry] you are much better than him. Don't hold back, tell him, tell him from me. You have to believe in yourself, you're better than that black s---."
And after the disgraceful abuse of Marcelo, it wasn’t long before people started relating the two.
Atlético Madrid fans in perfect send off to Luis Aragonés http://t.co/x1X5WmIQqj— Chase Failey (@ChaseFailey) February 6, 2014
In Aragones’ mitigation, high-profile black players Samuel Eto’o and Marcos Senna spoke in his defence. But, if anything, it’s more worrying that the former Spain coach saw his comments as something acceptable within football’s framework.
The BBC reported that he said at the time:
I never intended to offend anyone, and for that reason I have a very easy conscience. I'm obliged to motivate my players to get the best results. As part of that job, I use colloquial language, with which we can all understand each other within the framework of the football world.
He later apologised to Henry, albeit not personally, and was fined a paltry €3,000—around a day’s wages.
Within Spain, the Marcelo story doesn’t have much traction. Ramon Capin of Marca even note this on their version of events, stating that Sky Sports and the Guardian are more interested in it than native people are.
And that is part of the problem.
In 2012, president of the Spanish FA Angel Villa Llona said, as reported by ESPN: "There is no racism in Spanish football."
That is clearly not the case, as demonstrated not only on Wednesday night, but by a string of other incidents.
Things have improved only a little since 2005 when Atletico were fined the ludicrously small sum of €600, as reported by Kick It Out, for some fans pelting Espanyol goalkeeper Carlos Kameni with bananas.
In November 2013, FIFA president Sepp Blatter blasted Real Betis fans for racially abusing their own player. Reyes was involved again—completely by chance—as he was the player fouled by Paulao, who was subsequently sent off and then subjected to vile taunts from his own supporters.
Paulao said, via Reuters, after the game:
My family, in Brazil as well as here in Spain, are sad and worried. When I left the pitch I was only upset about the sending off and I did not notice, although my friends told me about it later. It's good that this gets a lot of publicity so that action can be taken. We are all the same. Skin colour changes nothing.
A search of the web doesn’t reveal any punishment being meted out to the guilty parties thus far.
The same could happen again after the Marcelo incident. That would be no way to deal with what remains a clear problem.