Since the 1950’s Spanish football has been thoroughly dominated by just two clubs – Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The knock-out format of cup competitions may throw up a surprise winner here and there but La Liga has for a long time been considered a two-horse race.
These two clubs have won Spain’s Primera Division 52 times between them, with Real’s 31 championships leading the way. Barca however just pip Real on total tournament wins with 75 and hold all the current bragging rights, with their recent tournament wins setting them apart in Spain, Europe and the World.
So it’s no surprise that any match between these two giants of football is heated, competitive in the extreme and watched by millions the world over. No wonder they named it El Clásico.
This is no ordinary derby match. In fact, although often referred to as El Derbi, Spain’s two largest clubs play their home games over 500 kilometres away from each other. But apart from the obvious fact that an El Clásico win for either side puts them a huge step closer to winning a trophy, this match is steeped in socio-political history, dating back to the Spanish civil war.
Under the regime of dictator, Francisco Franco, Barcelona officials were arrested and executed without trial, while there were undeniable links between the regime and Real Madrid. It’s not hard to see why Real became known as the ‘establishment’ team while Barcelona represented opposition to the dictatorship – their slogan ‘més que un club’ (more than a club) make sense now?
Of course these were never the official views of either club, but it was then and still is a huge reason why millions of Spaniards watch this match with so much interest, with fans of other teams often supporting either Barca or Real during El Clásico, as an outward showing of their political leanings.
Over the years, this rivalry has intensified, and added to that the constant ebbing and flowing of periods of dominance between the two sides, El Clásico has become the behemoth of a game that it is today.
Handbags at dawn
If the rivalry had been bubbling up to this point, the 1950’s saw it spill over into all-out hatred, heightened by a row over the signing of a then little-known footballer plying his trade in the Argentinian and Colombian leagues. This Italian-born forward was poached during confusion over a move from Club Deportivo Los Milionarios to River Plate, however the confusion did not stop there as both Real and Barca claimed to have secured his services.
Subsequently a compromise was suggested that the two clubs would share the player on an alternate season basis, however mysteriously Barcelona’s allegedly Franco-influenced president backed out after a few games and Real had their man.
Alfredo Di Stéfano went on to become one of the greatest footballers of all-time, leading Madrid to five consecutive European Champions Cup triumphs and is still the club’s 2nd highest ever scorer.
Unsurprisingly though the boardroom hasn’t been the rivalry’s main battleground. Fans, players and even managers have all been known to indulge in a spot of handbags. While the majority of the fans’ stick to offensive banners and chants to show their feelings, fan violence has marred El Clásico on occasion, most notably in 2002 when Luis Figo returned to Camp Nou to face his former club as a Real Madrid player and was subjected to a barrage of missiles, among them a pig’s head, from the Barcelona supporters.
If players scuffling on the pitch isn’t a rare sight at most derby matches, El Clásico virtually demands it. In 2011, the fans were treated to a glut of derbies with Real scheduled to meet Barca four times in just 18 days. Inevitably tensions boiled over and their Champions League first leg match resulted in forward, Pepe, and manager, Jose Mourinho both receiving red cards, a half-time pre-tunnel fracas, UEFA charges for missiles thrown from the crowd, a pitch invasion and a post-match interview by Mourinho in which he alluded to a political conspiracy to help Barcelona win the tournament. Barca ran out 2-0 winners in the match and did, in fact, go on to lift the trophy.
El Clásico Players
Over the years, some of the most revered players in the history of football have had the honour of taking part in an El Clásico match. Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Johan Cruyff, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Raúl and Luis Figo are just the start of a list which would fill these pages.
And the current crop aren’t bad either. Who would bet against a new “Best Player on the Planet. Ever. Full Stop.” award being created for Lionel Messi by the time he’s 30? And how Xavi has never been crowned World Footballer of the Year is beyond me.
Add to those two; Iniesta, Cristiano Ronaldo, Özil, Fabregas, Mascherano, Casillas, Puyol, Alves, Ramos, Benzema and Alonso and you have one hell of a show of talent for one match.
Best El Clásico Matches
In 1943 Real and Barca met in a 2nd leg cup match with Barca leading 3-0 from the first leg. Barca’s home fans gave the Real players the usual less than warm welcome and Los Blancos replied in style. At half-time it was 8-0 to Real and by full-time they had chalked up a stunning 11-1 away victory.
2010 was Barca’s year, they won La Liga, Supercopa de España and Champions League titles with style. And they chalked up an impressive 5-0 El Clásico win along the way. The Camp Nou was the backdrop for an absolute masterclass which set the scene for the rest of the season.
So there you have it. El Clásico in a nutshell. Now all that’s left is for you to get yourself down to Camp Nou or Stadium Santiago Bernabéu and see the heart-pumping action for yourself.