Through Gritted Teeth #25: Guti

July 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Guti, looking pensive, or possibly bemused

by Linda Hui

My dear Madridista father likes to say that it was a failure of education on his part which allowed me to grow up a cule, with scorn in my heart for all he holds dear. Not all, I’d reply, though definitely, undeniably most. But José María Gutiérrez Hernández, better known to you and I as Guti, is one of the few exceptions.

I can see your face now. Him? The man who probably changes his hair more often than some of his fellow professionals change their underwear; the man noted for petulance and silly red cards almost as much as for exquisite passing; the man cited in many a managerial change at Real as one of the chief culprits of the decisive dressing room rebellion; the man criticized by the then-Real president Ramón Calderón as ‘still a promise at 29’; the man even some Madridistas don’t like, despite him having notched up over 500 games for the club.

Yes, that Guti.

A product of Real Madrid’s cantera, he spent 24 years at the club, becoming a dressing room heavyweight along the way. The very fact that he managed to survive and thrive at Real, and outlast the expensive superstars who were bought and sold for his position through so many turbulent years is indicative. And yet, he is often seen as a figure of fun — colourful, not to be taken seriously. When Calderón made the aforementioned comments, many agreed. Guti is the footballer who never grew up.

Or is he? It’s true that he could never sustain a level of excellence that would place him in the pantheon of the greats. And he has never made his own life easy with frequent outbursts at the most inconvenient times. Yes, his temperament may be a waste of his talent. But his talent is extraordinary — combining an uncanny knack for finding space with the ball skills to make the deliveries or the runs to exploit it. Over the past two decades, La Liga has been blessed with an over-abundance of midfield talent, but on his day it was difficult to find a better left-sided midfielder. Madrid’s rotating stable of striking talent, including the likes of Ronaldo himself, rated him highly for his ability to find them with that vital final pass.

Guti spent much of his career being booted up in the air by opposition players in La Liga, who knew where the real danger was despite all the hype about the bigger names. Take the epic 3-3 Clasico of 2007, now famous for being one more step in the myth-making storyline of Leo Messi. In truth, despite the three fantastic goals scored by Messi and a tidy finish by Ruud van Nistelrooy, the chief orchestrator of the night was Guti.

Which is a little strange, really, considering then-manager Fabio Capello’s famous intolerance for temperamental stars. His attempts to fit Guti in regardless speaks volumes. The results proved Capello correct. The 3-3 draw with Barca and other good results against top teams such as Sevilla proved decisive in the title heading to Madrid that season, and Guti had played a major part in making the triumph possible.

As for the tiresome furore over Guti’s personal life which has dogged his entire career, it’s fair to say that in some respects he has not helped himself. Journalists covering Spanish football have spoken of unexpected depths to his character and a keen intelligence, but it’s difficult, to say the least, to find evidence of it in some of his behaviour.

The sniggering over his supposed sexual preferences is a different matter.

The tired old taunts which seem to plague any footballer who steps outside the narrow norm of proper masculinity favoured by the football community have dogged Guti for his entire career. In his case, the rumours were exacerbated by his friendship with the transsexual actress Bibiana Fernández. Football fans are not afflicted with an over-abundance of logic at the best of times, but it still seems absurd to have to point out that being friends with a transsexual person does not necessarily imply anything about a person’s sexuality. Nor, in fact, would being in a romantic relationship with a person who is a male-to-female transsexual make a man gay.

All of the above is, of course, completely irrelevant to his worth as a football player. Or at least it would be, in a perfect world. But that’s not the world we live in. Instead, a football player’s appearance andor associations 1) makes him God’s gift to the fevered imaginations of Spanish tabloid industry (second to Señor Beckham, of course), and 2) leads to repulsive terrace chants from fans of every stripe, and homophobic taunts from opposition players.

Guti is famous for having a short fuse. It has often been said that he invites the jibes by giving his tormenters the almost guaranteed satisfaction of a reaction. Which raises the question: why do we demand of football players greater tolerance of the kind of abuse we’d never let pass if shouted at one of us from across the street or the other side of the pub? Is that really what professionalism means? Footballers may be privileged beings, but they at no point waived the right not to be subject to discriminatory abuse.

In a perfect world, all of the above would be irrelevant, and Guti’s eventful life outside of football would be but an amusing anecdote at best, giving colour to a career that soared at times but never quite reached the heights. Instead, most remember him for the (terrible) fashion and hairstyle choices, the petulance, the tabloid insinuations, even for having a very persistent stalker.

But beyond all of that he was a damn good player for Real Madrid. Guti was unreliable, moody, a man who never quite delivered what his talent promised, but he gave us moments like the below. In a club where he was written off everytime Madrid purchased yet another galactico in midfield, he managed to adapt and survive until the tail end of his career, scoring 75 goals and providing many moments of genius along the way. He was the player opposition fans loved to hate, but this cule would rather appreciate him for everything he bought to La Liga instead.

———

In addition to her affection for the mighty Barcelona, Destroyer of Worlds, Linda supports Argentina and writes for the Barcelona Football Blog and her own Black, White & Grey. Ask her “Guti? Really?” on Twitter here: @blackwhitengrey.

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