Real Madrid vs Barcelona – El Clasico, as it is known to football fans all over the world – is widely regarded as the biggest club game on the planet
With millions of fan base across the world, El Clasico enjoys the largest TV audience of any football rivalry. In terms of scale, passion, rivalry, and brand of football – no other derby in this world comes close to it. It is unique. It is special.
The two clubs, both formed at the turn of the 20th century, used to share a healthy relationship and it was not like what it is today. In fact, the Barca vs Madrid rivalry properly took shape sometime around 1950.
During the 1930s, players from both the clubs used to go for dinners after matches. In today’s scenario, that is highly unthinkable.
Catalonia were an independent force in Europe back in the 15th century. Gradually it ceded sovereignty to a Madrid based court and spent centuries under the domination of Madrid rule.
The landscape changed completely once General Franco came to power in Spain at the end of the Civil War in 1939.
Barcelona, the city, were its worst victims, under the Franco dictatorship. Some 10,000 members of the anti-Franco brigade were executed in Barcelona. He also banned the speaking of Catalan in public.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon, the author of “The Shadow of the Wind”, described the city under Franco as a “haunted house”.
Barcelona FC endured their worst stretch in history as they failed to win a league in 14 years.
Off the pitch, it was a different story. It was around that time the club’s identity and symbolism grew stronger.
Johan Cruyff joined Barcelona in 1973, two years before Franco died. He was anti-Franco at heart. With him, a new era began in the history of the club.
Barcelona drew much of its identity from an anti-madridista sentiment. The city felt like it has always been victimised. It is only through the football club, that the city found its greatest expression and identity.
Democracy came to Spain around 1970. Real Madrid, however, still had their own style of doing things. They had a royal air about them.
Madrid, the capital of Spain, has always been the symbol of centrality. There is power. The Catalans have their own culture – el hecho diferencial – a different identity.
While Madrid is known for its Catholic connection, Catalonia has a history of anti-clericalism. Madrid is the commercial hub, while Barcelona exhibit art, progress and freedom.
Both are different from each other in every respect. The Catalans feel that Madrid fail to understand their identity. That is why the Catalans always push for autonomy.
There is a socio-political and religious tension that is hard to resolve and it feeds into the axiom of the Madrid-Barcelona rivalry.
El Clasico: Memorable moments
The Legend of Hristo Stoichkov
Stoichkov was a charismatic figure. He is like an “old prizefighter”, writes Richard Fitzpatrick in his book ‘El Clasico’.
The Bulgarian spent half of his life living under communism.
The city of Plovdiv was a ‘two faced world’, he described in his autobiography. The Russian stranglehold was so strong that no other language was allowed to practise. On the other hand, it instilled moral values like organisation and discipline. In case of Stoichkov, the latter was something he struggled to live with – both as a player and coach.
In December 1990, Barcelona met Real Madrid in the final of the Supercopa de Espana at the Camp Nou. As always, it was an incendiary battle. Cruyff was already sent to the stands for insulting the referee. It was time for Stoichkov to do something silly.
He thought the ref was being partial to Madrid. He acted impulsively and stamped on the ref’s foot. The referee hobbled away gingerly. Stoichkov was banned for three months.
Real Madrid won 5-1 on aggregate. While doing the lap of honour, objects and bottles rained down on top of them. Hugo Sanchez, the Real Madrid legend, did something stupid as well. He grabbed his crotch provocatively in front of one of the stands for which he was banned for four matches.
Guardiola lost his temper
Ahead of Barcelona’s Champions League clash with Real Madrid, Pep Guardiola, uncharacteristically lost his temper in the press conference when he was asked to reflect on a comment made by Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho in his presser suggested that Guardiola had been criticising referees unfairly.
“Now, with Pep’s comments, we have started a new era with a third group, featuring only one person, a man who criticises them when he makes good decisions. This is completely new to me.”
Guardiola responded with a 45-minute rant and described Mourinho as el puto jefe’ (the f***ing boss).
“As senor Mourinho has called me Pep, I’m going to call him Jose. Tomorrow at 8.45pm we will face each other on the pitch. Off the pitch he’s won. He’s been winning off the pitch all season. Let them give him a Champions League for it so he can enjoy it and take it home. In the press room he is ‘el puto jefe’ (the f***ing boss) and the one who knows more than everyone else.”
Pique & Ramos
In November 2010, Mourinho led his in-form Madrid side to Camp Nou, looking to extend their unbeaten run to 20 games in all competitions. However, Guardiola’s boys outclassed their opponent in spectacular fashion – such a dominant display never seen before by the Barca faithful in ages.
Gerard Pique celebrated the 5-0 victory by proudly raising his hand and outstretching his fingers – the Manita – a symbol that went on to define Pep’s legacy as a Barca manager.
Real Madrid simply had no answer to counter Barcelona’s tiki-taka style.
Lionel Messi dominated the game with supreme majesty. Sergio Ramos had had enough. He decided to lash out with a wild kick on the Argentine which sent him writhing on the floor.
Barcelona players, several of whom are Ramos’ international teammates, went to the ref in protest and a melee broke out – a Spanish Civil War on the football pitch.
Later, Xavi and Iker Casillas had to text each other after the game to try and rebuild the fractious relationship between the two clubs.
Alfredo Di Stefano
In March 1952, Colombian side, Millonarios, took part in a tournament in Spain to celebrate Real Madrid’s 50th anniversary. On that occasion, a prodigiously gifted young talent in the name of Alfredo Di Stefano impressed everyone.
Soon after, Barcelona showed an interest in him. Pepe Samitier, a famous agent working in South America, managed to convince the Argentina-born forward to leave Bogota and move to Catalonia.
The only thing that stood in his way of signing a deal for Barcelona was his complicated contractual situation with River Plate. He was on loan to Millonarios from River till October 1954.
Barcelona signed a deal with River Plate which was the right thing to do. Real Madrid got into the act quickly and signed a counter deal with Millonarios.
Di Stefano got confused. He was told by the senior management at his parent club that they couldn’t fix things from their end. The negotiation had reached an impasse.
The Spanish Federation was called upon to mediate. And even they had no clue how to deal with it. They referred it to the National Delegation of Sport, headed up by General Moscardo.
The General, a religious minded leader, decreed that Di Stefano should be shared by both the clubs. He would play alternatively for both Barca and Real over the next four seasons.
It left a massive outrage among the Barcelona fans. Marti Carreto, the-then Barca president resigned. Barca members blamed him for being incompetent. He was easily outwitted by Real Madrid and that was unacceptable.
The club agreed to forfeit their share in Di Stefano for a compensation payment of 4.4 million pesetas.
Barcelona officials felt that they were the victims of a conspiracy between Madrid and Franco’s government. A Catalan TV later revealed in a documentary that Carreto was blackmailed by the government.
The rest, as they say, is history. Di Stefano scored 216 goals in 282 appearances for Madrid and scored in each of Madrid’s five-in-a-row European Cup finals. Legend.
The former Denmark international was among the few players who excelled while playing for both the Spanish clubs.
Laudrup joined Barcelona from Juventus in 1989, after an unsuccessful spell in Italy. He was a great midfielder and soon established himself as a key player for Barca.
He enjoyed rich success at the Catalan club under the management of Johan Cruyff, winning four consecutive La Liga titles from 1991-94.
The former Swansea manager then left for Real Madrid the following year after falling out with Cruyff. He went on to lead Madrid to the La Liga title that season, ending the Catalan dominance.
In May 2000, Real Madrid secured their eighth Champions League title in regal fashion, beating Valencia 3-0 in Paris.
The European Champions went into the summer transfer window with an eye to steal the best player on the planet at that time. And Madrid fans wanted Luis Figo – the 2000 Ballon d’Or winner and the crown prince of Barcelona.
Lorenzo Sanz stood for re-election as president of Real Madrid in June 2000. Florentino Perez was his challenger.
The Sanz family were celebrating a marriage function when a preposterous ‘breaking news’ spoiled the party.
News flashed out that Perez had signed a pre-contract with Figo’s agent, Jose Viega, which could bring the Portuguese midfielder to the Spanish capital if Perez won the election.
Perez was well aware that Madrid fans wanted to see Figo in the white shirt after he did an internal survey using his sources. He promised to pay the subscription fee of 70,000 Real Madrid socios for the year, if Figo refused to come. It was a bold claim.
Figo and Sanz categorically denied that no pre-contract had been signed. Sanz accused Perez of spreading lies and false rumours.
Joan Gaspart, the front runner in Barca’s election, said that Figo would not be allowed to leave the club.
The only mistake Barcelona made was they didn’t take Figo’s contract demands seriously. Viega wanted a contract extension for his client, but Barcelona could not do so as they had no president at that time.
Meanwhile, Perez, the rich Madrid-based businessman, deposited £37.2 million at the Spanish Football Federation – the sum that was enough to trigger Figo’s clausula de recision.
And then the unexpected thing happened.
Perez became the new president of Real Madrid on 16th July, 2000. Seven days later, he unveiled Figo as a Madrid player – a move that made him the most expensive player in the world.
Barcelona fans were crestfallen. Figo kept on saying in the media that the offers from Madrid were untrue and that he was committed to Barcelona. And yet, he joined a rival club.
The Catalan fans felt betrayed. In their eyes – he is a pesetero. In their eyes – he is a traitor.
When Madrid visited Camp Nou that year, the stadium was festooned with giant 5,000 pesta notes with a banner reading: Figo, pesetero.
Another banner read: “We hate you so much because we loved you so much.”
Where was his loyalty? Fans yelled at him “Die Figo” as he took the pitch. The hatred lingers even today.
El Clasico Stats
Here are the list of players with most appearances in the Madrid vs Barca derby:
List of players to have scored most goals in El Clasico. As expected, Lionel Messi, leads the table with 21 goals. Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t far behind with 16 goals to his name.
Real Madrid vs Barcelona: Biggest wins
Real Madrid vs Barcelona: Top 10 Matches
The Clasico is the crown jewel of all football derbies in our planet, and matches over the years have seen outpourings of nervous energy and sporting brilliance in equal measure.
While FC Barcelona lead Real Madrid 109 – 97 in historical El Clasico meetings (264 in total including exhibition games), let us have a look at 10 select games which stand out from the rest:
2011 Copa Del Rey Final: This was played out at Mestalla, Valencia’s home ground, and after a goalless 90 minutes, Cristiano Ronaldo slotted home for Madrid in the 103rd minute.
The match is memorable for being Jose Mourinho’s first trophy in charge of Madrid. Also, in the post match parade on the streets of Madrid, the trophy slipped from Sergio Ramos’s hand and was immediately crushed under the bus!
2006-07 La Liga: This was a cracking encounter with the match ending 3-3. This was also the occasion when a certain Lionel Messi showed the world what stuff he is made of by scoring a El Clasico hat-trick, all of which had come from behind goals.
2001-02 La Liga: The Camp Nou, the holy cathedral of European Football, saw one of the most ghastly images ever witnessed by the footballing world on the evening of November 24, 2002.
It became known as the “Derbi de la Verguenza” or “Derby of the Shame” and it centred around Luis Figo. The match ended goalless at the Bernabeu, but what had happened with Figo left a slur in the history of this derby.
On this particular occasion, the Catalan crowds threw all sorts of objects at him including a whiskey bottle, beer cans, and a suckling pig’s head – the cochinillo.
2004-05 La Liga: A 3-0 victory for Barcelona at the Bernabeu was special indeed, but this particular fixture became famous for Ronaldinho, who was given a standing ovation by the Madrid faithful.
The Brazilian artist scored two goals of supreme quality that left the Madridistas in a daze of shock first, and torrents of appreciation finally.
2007-08 La Liga: At the fag end of the La Liga season came this game, where Madrid had a resounding 4-1 win over Barcelona. The result was inconsequential as Los Blancos had already won the league title the last week.
Their title triumph was made all the more memorable due to the Spanish tradition of Pasillo, where the winners are given a guard of honour by their rivals as they come on to the pitch.
As it happened, Barcelona were the rivals!
1994-95 La Liga: While the Clasico has seen teams scoring goals galore, this was the last time that Real Madrid had the glory of shipping five past the Blagurana.
At the Bernabeu, crowd favourite Ivan Zamorano scored a first half hattrick to give Real a 3-0 lead at the break. Two more were scored in the second half, one of them being by a present-day manager called Luis Enrique.
1993-94 La Liga: Staying on the topic of 5-0 victories, who can forget the Legend of the Manita! Cruyff was already a certified Barca legend, but on this day Camp Nou watched the genius of another little guy which the world saw some months later.
In his first season at Barcelona, Romario promptly scored a Clasico hat-trick that was the prime force behind the demolition act. This was his calling card for the party that was the 1994 World Cup!
The day of the match, 8th January, is still celebrated by the Barca fans every year.
2002 UEFA Champions League: The semi-final of 2002 Champions League was a Clasico in its truest sense, and with the influence of modern media and the internet, approximately 500 million viewers across more than 100 countries watched the game on TV.
Real won the first leg 2-0 away, the return leg was drawn 1-1. Madrid went on to win their 9th Champions League title in the finals in Glasgow.
While the games were not much to write home about, this was the start of the modern media hype machine – in fact the Spanish media called the games as “Match of the Century”.
2010-11 Spanish Super Cup: This was as low as the rivalry could get between the participants of the Clasico. While the first leg of the Super Cup ended at 2-2, the second leg at the Nou Camp became a tempestuous affair.
During a bust-up in the dugout, Jose Mourinho poked at the eye of Tito Vilanova, who was then assistant to Pep Guardiola. The Portugese was roundly criticised by everyone, and Mourinho apologized unreservedly in 2012 for the incident.
After Vilanova was diagnosed with cancer, Mourinho stated that if he had three wishes, he would use one of them to cure Vilanova’s health problems.
1967-68 Copa Del Rey: A crucial subtext in the Clasico rivalry has been Barcelona’s representation of Catalan pride and the call for Catalan independence over the centralized powers of Madrid.
This was at its peak during the regime of General Franco, who had changed the name of the Copa Del Rey to Copa del Generalisimo. At the Santiago Bernabeu, in the final of the competition, Madridistas got enraged by the refereeing decisions and peppered the field with bottles.
Although Barcelona went on to win the game 1-0, at the end of the match, General Franco awarded the trophy to the Catalan boys in the showpiece venue of Madrid filled with glass bottles.
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