In the intense heat of the cauldron of competitive professional sports in the international arena, particularly in the highest pinnacles of club-level football thronged by mega thousands of gaga-eyed fans vociferously bellowing enraptured support for their favoured, beloved teams, idiosyncratic temperaments flaring up with temperatures quickly rising in the raging inferno are only to be expected as part and parcel of the ensuing hue and cry.
Such was the situation with the recently concluded and highly-anticipated El Clasico derby clash between traditional bitter rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Spanish La Liga. In the heat of the action, observers could not have been faulted for having thought they had caught sight of Jose Mourinho passionately venting his frustrations in the dugout with his trademark style of histrionics. But Mourinho at the La Liga El Clasico? How could that possibly be?
As the camera zoomed in closer for a better look, the lively figure in the lens at the centre of the action morphed into that of Eder Sarabia, the assistant coach of Barca’s Quique Setien. To the uninitiated, this would certainly be a poser but to those in the know, a smile would begin to curl up at the edge of the lips.
Setien’s young lieutenant was caught on camera by TV stations Movistar and Gol displaying his full emotions without restraint and in full animated splendour tempestuously raging all throughout the match that the Barcelonians finally lost 2-0 to Los Blancos. Sarabia was in his unparalleled perfect form unleashing full salvos of foul-mouthed invectile at any and all several players that did not meet with his approval with none spared, not even the legendary Messi. Needless to say this angered the squad and added caustic insult to injury as the loss itself was sufficient to rankle the Blaugrana weary without the beleaguered warriors having to suffer the indignity of a young wannabe coach adding in his unsolicited two bits worth of unbounded non-stop commentary that could at worst be imiconstrued as self-righteous sarcasm from a twit still wet behind the ears.
So who the heck is Eder Sarabia, this young fiery tornado with the toxic mouth and rapier-like tongue that could hurl incessantly verbal lashings of foul expletives deleted and abuse with such fluidity that he even has the gall to question the performance of the likes of Messi and Griezmann on the pitch?
Eder is the son of legendary Athletic player Manu Sarabia. The young lad had grown up under the hypnotic influence of Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’, which won the club the European Cup for the first time in 1992, as well as the La Liga four times between 1990 and 1994. His father had been Setien’s team mate at Logrones while Eder was only eight and it was through this connection that Sarabia found his way into the Blaugrana dugout, having first been Setien’s assistant at Las Palmas and the link had been perpetuated since then, continuing at Real Betis and now Camp Nou in Catalunya.
Not surprisingly, Eder Sarabia has been described as the new Jose Mourinho due to the volatility of his fiery temperament on the sidelines as was clearly demonstrated in his behaviour in the Clasicothat has caused such a ruckus among the fans and some of the players.
However, truth be told, there seems to be ambivalence in opinion over Sarabia’s off-pitch behaviour, with some figures higher up in the upper echelons at Barcelona, and a substantial portion of Barca supporters, actually lending support to the histrionic antics of Setien’s assistant. According to Diario Sport, not all Barca’s stars think that his virulent fervour is a necessarily bad thing, although the caveat is that it should not have been exposed publicly.
El Periodico reports that clubs have forwarded complaints to La Liga over the television companies filming the benches and putting together subtitled videos to the ridiculous extent of even using lip-readers, which was how the cameras were able to pick out the verbal ranting of Sarabia. Surprisingly, fans voting in a poll from Gol have backed Setien’s assistant, with 76 per cent of respondents saying Sarabia’s reactions were ‘normal’.
This time around at the latest instalment of the El Clasico at the Bernabeu, the controversy rose up a couple more notches after he was filmed on camera insulting his team’s own players.
“It’s sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, those f*cking sh*tty long passes!” he complained about Gerard Pique’s distribution of his passes.
“He’s not doing anything he’s supposed to be doing, f*cking hell!” Sarabia grumbled, disgruntled with Nelson Semedo.
“Again, Arthur, f*cking hell!” mumbled the assistant, targeting Barcelona’s Brazilian midfielder.
Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets were also not spared his scathing fury and comments and were accordingly rebuked.
“Griezmann is a world champion. Who is Eder Sarabia to tell him he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do?” questioned French journalist Fred Hermel on Gol TV .
Another priceless clip showed Sarabia frantically shouting at six-time Ballon d’Or winner and perhaps the best player in the history of the game, Messi, in attempts to get his attention. “Lio! Lio!” hollered the assistant with full abandon.
Some of Barcelona’s players have taken offense with Sarabia’s behaviour and off-colour comments. On top of that, the fact that he has no proven credibility and meritorious history of his own has not aided the issue in his favour but has actually militated against him, especially considering that he’s never ever hidden the fact that his father’s status has opened doors for him.
“It seems he rules more than the coach and nobody knows him because he’s done nothing on a professional level, how can he give orders to Messi?” a Barcelona source told ABC newspaper.
Setien has admonished Sarabia to caution restraint over his pitch-side behaviour and calm it down and both coach and assistant admitted on Thursday that they had apologised to the players.
“This situation has affected me a lot, it’s something I’m worried about,” said Setien in an interview with El Periodico . “They can criticise us for making bad substitutions, for planning the games badly, for whatever, but not for behaviour.”
“Eder is a kid who has a big temperament, which for a lot of things suits us brilliantly, but he has to learn to control himself. He’s working on that, trying to improve, because we’ve had these situations. He’s trying to fix it.”
“He’s a young boy, an impulsive boy, who has so much energy and for a lot of things that’s really positive. But we’re on the bench for the club we represent and our behaviour must be exemplary.”
“We’ve spoken about it, he’s worried too. We have apologised, and above all I have, because in the end it’s my fault, I should control these things.”
To reiterate, it’s inevitably and unavoidably a mish-mash of diverse pesonalities with idiosyncratic temperaments involved in the heat of battle, players, fans, coaches and even assistant coaches all involved in the whole imbroglio.
However, at the end of the day despite all the best and most honourable intentions anyone might have on or off the pitch, there’s still always a fine line that needs to be drawn demarcating the difference between being proactive and being provocative, intentional or otherwise.