There is quite simply no other game in the world like it.
Real Madrid versus Barcelona known as El Clasico, has no rival in the modern era and stands head and shoulders above all as the premier games in world football.
When the two teams walk out onto the famed Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, the whole of Spain and much of the world will come to a grinding halt with supporters glued to their screens.
The question is how did one game rise to have so much prominence in world football?
The rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona has been a major part of both clubs’ existence since their inception.
The hostility between the clubs only really began to develop to toxic levels during the reign of Spanish leader General Franco.
The Catalans of Barcelona argue that Franco persecuted them and tried to deny them their rights to autonomy and Catalan identity.
The Nou Camp was increasingly viewed as the only safe haven for Catalan nationals to freely express not only their feelings of Catalan pride, but also their displeasure of the ruling regime.
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So while a football match was being acted out on the pitch below, in the stands above the people of Barcelona were channelling and voicing their political frustration and opinion.
It is how FC Barcelona came to be viewed as a symbol of opposition to the ruling party and victory against Real Madrid was regarded as a crushing victory for the Catalan people.
The rivalry heated up and intensified after Real Madrid clandestinely signed the mercurial Argentine Alfredo Di Stefano in 1953 from under the noses of FC Barcelona.
In the years to come, the rivalry and animosity grew and threatened to get out of hand.
When in 2000, the Portuguese legend Figo was controversially signed by Real from their bitter rivals Barcelona, he was greeted on his arrival back for a fixture at Camp Nou with a real pigs head thrown at him.
The openly displayed resentment and hatred was never limited to the fans or players and reached boiling point during Jose Mourinho’s tenure at the capital club between 2010 and 2013 as he went about creating unheard of tension and rivalry between the clubs, including his notorious poking in the eye of the late Barca coach Tito Vilanova.
When one considers that these two teams contributed significantly to Spain’s outstanding World Cup winning side of 2010, it’s a credit to the players’ focus and commitment that they were able to put their club emotions to one side and attend to the job on hand.
Only in recent years has the visible tension, anger and hostility between the clubs finally simmered down to something that resembles a situation that is more controllable and manageable.
Historically these two legendary football institutions have had a virtual monopoly on the very best players of the world game.
The players who have donned the famed strips of Real Madrid and Barcelona over the years reads like a who’s who of footballing fame and this pursuit of the very best players has resulted in both sides always being at the very top of the pile in Europe.
Real’s legends include Alfredo Di Stefano,Ferenc Puskas,Raul,Ronaldo(the Brazilian original,) Zidane, Modric,Benzema and their main attraction and drawcard Cristiano Ronaldo.Barcelona greats include Kubala,Johan Cruyff,Maradona, Romario,Rivaldo,
Ronaldinho,Xavi, Iniesta and of course Mr Barcelona himself, Lionel Messi.
However, nothing quite breeds success as success itself.
Real Madrid were overwhelmingly voted as the greatest team of the last century by FIFA in 2000.
They have continued their remarkable domination into this century and have now acquired fourteen Champions League titles with five since 2014 alone including of course their unexpected triumph last season.
Madrid proved that despite the immense power and competition provided by the EPL clubs, Real have not only what it takes to survive, but to continue winning.
They remain footballing royalty, aptly titled REAL and all other football teams and fans need to take a step back and recognise the true owners of the game, the true leaders, the bosses, REAL MADRID!
Meanwhile, the Messi led Barcelona side between 2006 and 2018 with four Champions League titles in this period is without question the most exciting and exhilarating club football side ever.
If we then throw in the 2000 and 2002 successes of Real Madrid, we have a staggering monopoly of 50% of all the Champions League titles won by these two adversaries since the turn of the century!
In my books that fact in isolation makes this match the greatest match of them all and that’s before we throw in the political context, the history and the glamour of the tie etc etc.
Barcelona though have been in a visible messi decline over the last few years and needed this year to be the start of their revival.
Their dramatic 3-3 draw with Inter Milan in mid week means that progression to the knock out stages of the Champions League is no longer in their hands and highly unlikely.
Another year of the ignominy of Europa League football beckons and Barca will be left to rue the economic cost of their failure as well as the embarrassment of playing Thursday night football with Manchester United!
This is especially so given the dramatic economic measures they took to purchase and register star players such as Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde and Raphinha .Barca being Barca though will always somehow have the leverage to get out of this piquel!
The wealth of the EPL and the arrival of the new mega money clubs such as PSG and Manchester City onto the scene and the power these clubs have in the transfer business has obviously and radically, however, altered the footballing landscape to the extent where Real Madrid and Barcelona can no longer call the shots and cannot always be assured of getting the star names they are after.
Be that as it may, these two Spanish clubs still have the allure and appeal and continue to be the first choice destination of most elite players.
It’s a fact that when Real and Barca come calling, it’s close to irresistible and impossible to say no to.
Barcelona despite it being public knowledge that they were perilously close to being broke, were still able to get the players they desired despite them all being offered higher and more lucrative contracts elsewhere.
One doesn’t need a PHD to guarantee that the best two young players on the planet Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe will arrive in Spain in the not too distant future to play for Real Madrid or even Barcelona.
The message is loud and clear that as long as these two clubs continue to attract and maintain a stranglehold of the elite footballers of the world game then El Clásico will remain the pinnacle, the torch bearer, the must watch game for the spectator and the must play for game, for the player.
Of course Real Madrid cannot provide this spectacle all on their own and El Clasico needs a financially stable successful Barca side to maintain it’s standing as the premier fixture in world football.
Barcelona will therefore be desperate to be victorious this weekend to assure us all that the Champions League debacle is no reflection of their quality and that they remain one of the world’s truly great sides.
In a nutshell, it’s a fixture they really cannot afford to lose.
A persistently weak Barcelona will result in El Clasico’s status as the greatest contest in world football being lost to any of a number of keenly contested EPL clashes.
This weekend’s mouth-watering clash between Liverpool and Manchester City is precisely such a fixture even if City are threatening to tear all and sundry apart this season.
Liverpool on the other hand have had their worst start to a campaign for ten years and will hope that the 7-1 thumping of Glasgow Rangers in midweek is the impetus they need to kick start their season back on track.
Super sub on the night Salah,looks like he finally has his mojo back with the fastest Champions League hat trick of all time.
Let’s hope the tide has finally turned for hi because Salah on form could be the difference between a top four finish for Liverpool and a Thursday night invitation to join their friends in the red half of Manchester!
Personally I think Liverpool have crossed their River Trent and are over the worst and so I’m backing them to give City a real run for their money on Sunday with Salah instrumental in a 2-2 draw between the sides.
Till the next time folks…..
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