What is a guard of honor in football? Why is Atletico Madrid refusing to recognize La Liga champions Real Madrid?
Real Madrid clinched the 2021-22 La Liga title last weekend with its home win over Espanyol, 15 points above anyone else in the Spanish top flight with just four matches remaining.
It is the 35th league title in Real Madrid’s club history, and makes Carlo Ancelotti the first manager in world football to win a league title in all five of the Big Five European leagues.
In many European soccer leagues, it is tradition to recognize the title winner with a guard of honor in the game after a team clinches the championship. Yet, Real Madrid will not get one this season.
Los Blancos happen to play rivals Atletico Madrid on May 8 in one of the fiercest local derbies in world football.
What is a guard of honor in football?
When a team wins a league championship, or sometimes even for another title, the club’s next opponent is expected to pay tribute to the accomplishment.
In the champion’s following fixture, the opponent is meant to honor the title winners by forming two lines and applauding, creating a tunnel for the winners to walk through upon entering the field.
It’s a small gesture, but one that’s deemed good sportsmanship and has become an established tradition throughout the years.
Just two years ago, Leganes gave Real Madrid a guard of honor in the final match of the year for winning the league title. Real Madrid had confirmed the crowning achievement the week prior with a win over Villarreal, eventually finishing five points above second-placed Barcelona.
And on May 7, Barcelona even gave Copa del Rey champions Real Betis a guard of honor after they won Spain’s domestic cup title last weekend.
Here was the pasillo Barça gave to Betis for winning the Copa del Rey.
— La Liga Lowdown 🧡🇪🇸⚽️ (@LaLigaLowdown) May 7, 2022
At football finals it’s common for the newly crowned champion to give their opponent a guard of honor as Liverpool did when they honored Tottenham Hotspur in 2019:
Why Atletico Madrid refuse to give Real Madrid a guard of honor
It seems as if the Madrid derby rivalry trumps the time-honored tradition of recognizing the league champions.
Atletico Madrid released a scathing statement emphatically confirming the club will not give Real Madrid a guard of honor.
“Some people want to turn what was born as a gesture of recognition to the champion into a public toll to be paid by their rivals, with the aim of humiliation,” the Atletico Madrid statement read. “Under no circumstances are Atletico Madrid going to collaborate in this attempt at mockery in which the true values of sport are completely forgotten. It also encourages tension and confrontation between fans.
“We have been involved in several similar situations in recent years after winning different titles, including two league titles, and on some occasions there was some kind of tribute from the rival team to our champions and on others there was not. But never was such an exaggerated and artificial expectation or controversy generated as what we have been experiencing in recent weeks.”
Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone backed the club’s stance with his comments in the pregame press conference.
“The reality is what the club said in a press release, explaining perfectly, congratulating Real Madrid above all, the footballers, the technical staff, because they have done a great job,” Simeone said.
“We have respect for Madrid but more for our people.
“I don’t know if this is represented in other world championships. Each society is different. The Spanish one has this guard of honor for their rivals, [but] as an example, where I come from we don’t use it. We live differently, too.”
Refusal to give a guard of honor in recent La Liga history
There are precedents for this approach from Atletico Madrid.
In 2018, Real Madrid themselves refused to give Barcelona a guard of honor for winning the league title, with then-captain Sergio Ramos saying, “We’re making too much fuss about all this. Barca have the title, which is what they wanted, but there will be no guard of honor. Full stop.”
It had gone the other direction the year before, with Barcelona refusing to honor the tradition for Real Madrid after Los Blancos won the FIFA Club World Cup. The explanation was that Barcelona was not participating in the competition, so Barcelona would not recognize Real Madrid for the achievement.
“In this club, the guard of honor is usually made when we participate in the Champions League or La Liga…and this is not the case,” said Barcelona director of institutional relations Guillermo Amor.