A match which in recent times, has had the same overarching narrative time and time again: two of the best players in the world (and possibly in the history of football), squaring off against each other-Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo.
For nearly ten years, El Clasico has been hyped to portray a clash of two individuals pit against each other. It became a fixture where two players seemed to embody the magnitude of the occasion.
Lionel Messi (right) playing for Barcelona against Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo (left) playing for Real Madrid against Barcelona
However, as we near the first Clasico without either Messi or Ronaldo since 2007, the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid can rightfully take center stage. Although the Messi-Ronaldo narrative has always been appealing, it can’t be forgotten that this fixture was one of the most anticipated in the entire world, even before their respective arrivals on both sides of the divide.
El Clasico is a rivalry that has developed over both clubs’ history and has evolved into an event which showcases not only the best in La Liga, but also the world.
As a club, Barcelona is the very embodiment of Catalonia. The autonomous community in the northeast of Spain has become renowned for their rich culture, language, and nationalistic identity in contrast to the rest of the country. As a result, Barcelona has become a global symbol of Catalan pride and independence.
The Camp Nou creating a Catalan flag during El Clasico
Meanwhile, Real Madrid has historically been seen as a club that represents the crown of Spain, and as a result, has become the most supported club in the nation. The capital club was famously used as a tool by Francisco Franco, often using Real to promote the power and propaganda of his dictatorial state.
Francisco Franco who was dictator of Spain between 1939 and 1975
The conflicting ideals that lie at the very core of both clubs have popularly been used to strengthen the narratives ahead of each fixture. However, no narrative is greater than the sheer dominance the two clubs hold over Spain.
Season after season, La Liga has frequently been dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid. Between them, they have won 58 La Liga titles, only failing to win on 29 occasions. In the past 14 seasons, only Atletico Madrid have been able to break the duopoly between the two sides, famously winning the title in 2014.
The success of the Spanish clubs in recent years has only amplified the global appeal into these fixtures. In addition to unparalleled domestic success, both have enjoyed several triumphant campaigns in the UEFA Champions League. Barcelona or Real Madrid have advanced to the semifinals of the competition in every season since 2007-08. In the last ten editions, the two Spanish giants have shared seven European titles, and have won the last five titles.
With Barca and Real dominating European competitions, the two clubs have contributed heavily to the Spanish national team. Largely consisting of players from both clubs, La Roja won Euro 2008 and eliminated years of heartbreak on the international stage. They would use this generational experience to propel them to further success, winning their first World Cup in 2010 and defending their European title in 2012. The national team was able to enjoy a golden generation of talent, courtesy of Barcelona and Madrid.
Spain celebrating their World Cup win in 2010. The squad contained 13 players who played for either Barcelona or Real Madrid at the time.
In addition, the list of players that have participated in this match is just astounding. Given the prominence of both teams and the financial power they have, it was inevitable that some of the biggest names in football would ply their trade at one of these clubs at some point in their career. From Barcelona, names like Johan Cruyff, Luis Suarez (the Spanish one) Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Carlos Puyol, and Lionel Messi come to mind. For Real Madrid players like Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano, Fernando Hierro, Roberto Carlos, Iker Casillas, Raul, Zinedine Zidane, and Cristiano Ronaldo have represented the team in the past. These are some of the greatest players to have ever played the game.
In addition, a select group of players have crossed the tribal lines and have featured for both sides- Michael Laudrup, Ronaldo (the original), and the most recent- Luis Figo.
Luis Figo playing for Real Madrid
Figo, stunningly crossed the divide in July 2000, swapping Catalonia for Madrid. A few months later, while playing at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium, Figo had to endure the deep hostility from the home fans from the moment he stepped out onto the pitch. The Portuguese winger found jeers and whistles hurled at him with every touch on the Camp Nou pitch.
However, those weren’t the only things thrown at him.
Figo took several corners for Los Blancos during the game, a perfect opportunity for fans to attack their once beloved player. Bottles, coins, and a now infamous pig’s head were launched onto the pitch towards Figo. The pig seemingly symbolizing what the Barcelona fans thought of him: a swine who was dead to them. His betrayal left Barcelona fans livid and the match became their opportunity to vent their feelings onto Figo for 90 minutes.
If that doesn’t show the magnitude of this rivalry, then nothing will.
This all paints a picture that displays why this fixture is debatably the most anticipated set of games of every season. This game is more than a game and certainly more than Messi against Ronaldo.
Sure, this Sunday is the first Clasico without Messi or Ronaldo since 2007, but that doesn’t matter. El Clasico will always be El Clasico with or without them, regardless of their status as two of the sport’s greatest players. It is a match full of history, culture, world-class talent showcased to the world, but most of all- one of the biggest rivalries in the world of football.
Forget about Messi and Ronaldo, this is bigger than them, bigger than a football game – it’s El Clasico.
Photo Citations, in order of appearance:
- By Alejandro Ramos – Forcejeo, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10426146
- By Addesolen – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18428335
- By Jan S0L0 – Cristiano Ronaldo, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49126243
- By Jackpollock – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29833609
- By Biblioteca Virtual de defensa – https://www.bez.es/60977877/franco-firmo-una-cada-cuatro-leyes-vigentes.html, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71838271
- By Daniel Dionne – World Cup celebration, CC BY-SA 2.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10881800