Spanish football could not have scripted a better way to begin the 2011/12 season.
The Spanish Super Cup, which precedes the start of the league campaign, is a showdown between the previous season's league and cup winners in a two-game series.
In this year's Super Cup, the two giants of the Iberian peninsula, Real Madrid and Barcelona, continued their fabled odyssey that began last year as the two clubs faced each other four times in less than a month.
Those games were expected to become one of the greatest tests of physical and mental endurance in football history. For generations, these two sides had dominated Spanish and European football.
However, the rivalry would soon cross the fine line that separates what makes athletic competition great and malicious foul-play that brings shame to sport.
Shameless play-acting led to dirty tackling. Players surrounded officials like a pack of rabid beasts. On-field scuffles turned into bench-clearing melees.
This four-game series was supposed to go down in football lore. Instead, it was condemned by many, including fans, as one of the biggest disappointments of the entire season.
Last weekend, Madrid and Barcelona played a hard-fought 2-2 draw. Madrid jumped out to a quick lead and dominated for the most part on their home grass. However, a wonderful goal from David Villa evened things up, before Lionel Messi would put them up just before the half.
Xavi Alonso would find the net in the 54th minute to complete the 2-2 tie.
The game ended. Barcelona had been lucky to escape on level terms as Madrid shook their heads. However, for the first time in many contests, the talking point of the match was how clean and hard-fought it had been.
The return leg in Barcelona would not end so pleasantly.
Goals from Andres Iniesta and two from Messi were enough to give the Catalans a 3-2 win (5-4 on aggregate).
As time wound down, Madrid began to push for an equalizer. Last season's Spanish cup winners threw troops forward and threatened numerous times. It seemed as if this competition, a "preseason exhibition," was what was needed to cool the nerves of the two sides and remind them it's just a game.
Then, with just a few minutes to go, Marcelo took out the legs of Cesc Fabregas in a blatant show of frustration, anger and poor judgment. His scissor kick sent Barca's new arrival to the floor and both benches onto the field.
In the melee that would ensue, Sergio Ramos would grab the the neck of Jose Pinto, Villa would slap Mesut Ozil and Ozil would continue to seek retaliation until he would get his own red card.
However, what was perhaps the most ludicrous act of the entire brawl came from the Madrid boss himself.
Jose Mourinho would approach a Barca assistant from behind and menacingly grab his cheek before walking away with a grin.
In the day of YouTube, Twitter and instant replay, there is no hiding from the truth. All actions are caught and recorded for review and broadcasted worldwide for fans. The mayhem of Wednesday night was an international incident by the morning.
Rivalries are what make sports great. The ability to identify with a team through their style or location gives the fans a reason to support them. However, when it escalates to this kind of antagonism, it becomes counter-productive to the purpose.
It is interesting to see Madrid fans condemning their own stars for their reckless behavior. So too seeing Barca fans pointing out the stupidity of their own getting involved, when the match officials had it handled.
It should make the players ask themselves, who are they playing for?
Sports are for the fans. When the fans are no longer appreciative of the competition, it is the responsibility of the players and the managers to accommodate them.
With a player strike looming over the start of the Spanish season, the last thing La Liga or the federation wants to deal with is sorting out this fiasco. Suspensions must be clear and direct. Jose Mourinho should face the brunt of the blame, not only for his support of such play, but his direct involvement in the scuffle.
Pep Guardiola should be made to serve some time as well. Even though he was actively trying to prevent the mayhem, it was his players who left their bench and went after Madrid.
In the end, the penalties must reflect the idea that the majesty of El Clasico is in serious danger of being destroyed. Only by breaking the root of the bad blood can it come back to a level of fair play and one of the best competitions in modern football.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!