WARSAW — The conflict between Real Madrid and Barcelona players seemed to belong to the past before Xavi Hernandez re-opened wounds a few days ahead of Spain’s Euro 2012 start.
“We congratulated them when they won. This is a sport after all. We have been very respectful of them, and I haven’t noticed them doing the same the other way around,” the Barça playmaker said in an interview with Canal Plus broadcasters this week.
The comment surprised many at Spain’s Euro training camp in Gniewino, Poland. Most were particularly upset by the unfortunate timing, just days ahead of the match against Italy, Sunday with which Spain are to launch their title defence.
Spanish federation sources declined without exception to comment on the issue in public, in the hope that the fast-approaching game may defuse the controversy on its own.
At a Press conference Wednesday, Real Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa tried to cool things down.
“We know the difference between being with our clubs and being with the national team,” he stressed.
However, he called for efforts to overcome tension, for the sake of the Spain team.
“If we have our differences, we are here to sand them down,” Arbeloa said.
The spat within the world champions’ team started in April 2011 with a string of matches between the arch-rivals Real and Barça.
There were numerous incidents, with many national team players involved in them; Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso, Gerard Pique, Xavi, among others.
The dispute was to continue in the Spanish Supercup at the start of the past season, when both of the country’s giants clashed again. That was the match in which Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho poked the eye of Tito Vilanova, who was then Pep Guardiola’s assistant on the Barça bench and is to be the Catalans’ head coach next season.
At the time, Casillas cast doubt over Barcelona’s win. The Real keeper and Spain captain later said publicly that he had called Xavi and Carles Puyol to try to calm things down.
However, all that fire left plenty of embers that were to become apparent over the months. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque appeared to admit ahead of the Euro that things are less than ideal between Ramos and Pique, for example.