El Clasico: A rivalry that goes far beyond football

If there is a football event that immobilizes the world of sports, it is the El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, monopolizing the attention of more than 650 million viewers worldwide, proving that it is much more than just a football game. 


When German striker Udo Steinberg scored the first two goals of Barcelona’s 3-1 victory over Real Madrid on May 13, 1902, at the Hipodromo Stadium in Madrid he did not know he was writing the first chapter of one of the biggest rivalries in world football. The game with 2 thousand fans was for the semi-finals of the Coronation Cup (predecessor of the Copa Del Rey of Spain). More than a century later, Barcelona and Real Madrid, who face each other on Thursday at the same tournament, monopolize the attention of football fans. Spain is divided in front of this classic and nobody is indifferent.

The story begins

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Barcelona was born first, on the initiative of the Swiss athlete Joan Gamper, who arrived on Spanish soil for professional reasons. Months later, Gamper put an ad in a sports magazine to invite all the foreign legion of the city, to be part of a new project. The plan on November 29th, 1899 was baptized with the name of Futbol Club Barcelona.

The city of Madrid would also have its equipment. In February 1900 the Madrid Football Club was constituted, and on 6th of March of 1902 is established officially like Real Madrid. By that time, both clubs played and did not go beyond the normal rivalry between the two teams. In fact, the first time they played officially in 1902, the Catalan team won in the semi-final of the Coronation Cup.

The first controversial transfer

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Striker Josep Samitier Vilalta played an important role in the history between both teams. He is the third top scorer in the history of Barca (333), behind Paulino Alcantara (369), and Argentine Lionel Messi (404), current Blaugrana player. He was one of the great figures and emblem of the Catalan box in which he played for 17 years until he signed for Real Madrid in 1933. The event increased the hostility between the two clubs. With the political situation that surrounded, where a change in regime led to a civil war, the country went through a military dictatorship that reinforced the image of FC Barcelona as a figure of Catalan identity that opposed the Spanish government.

Political problems and 11-1

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In the 1930s, the political situation in Spain became complicated after a regime change that would impose a military dictatorship. Barcelona would reinforce its image as a Catalan identity against the Spanish government that banned all languages except Castilian.

During the dictatorship, a Real Madrid vs Barcelona in the semifinal of the Copa del Rey would be played, the Catalans would win at home 3-0, in a match with insults in the stands against Real Madrid. The return, played in Madrid had the bulging Real Madrid victory 11-1, however, before the match, the Spanish army and police went to the dressing room of the Catalan team to intimidate them.

Fernando de Argila, Barcelona’s goalkeeper, said afterwards that the referee told him,

“Look how the stand is. We cannot allow something to happen here. You already know what you have to do.”

Help of Franco to Real Madrid

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HIRING DI STEFANO

One of the greatest players in history, the Argentine was hired at the same time by Barcelona and Real Madrid. It was not clear which club was the owner of the South American footballer’s rights. The Spanish court ruled that for four years Di Stefano would play each one season in each club. Barcelona refused, considering the absurd decision, and the Argentine turned idol of Madrid.

CONSTRUCTION OF STADIUM

Santiago Bernabeu, a Francoist soldier, was president of the club at the time of the construction of the monumental stadium (Estadio Santiago Bernabeu) in the Spanish capital in 1947. The country lived a post-war period and Real Madrid was out of money. Even so, the work ended in less than three years, possibly with the help of the central government, done in a hidden way.

RELATIONSHIP WITH REFEREES

Finally, the rivalry still exposes what would be a rather suspicious relationship between the club and the football referees. The wives of the referees received gifts from Real Madrid. The growth of the Madrid club would be a project of Franco to become a propaganda agent of the regime in the rest of the world.

Impact of Johan Cruyff and Michael Laudrup

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On February 17, 1974, Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 0-5 in their own backyard. Johan Cruyff silenced the Bernabeu with his football being decisive of that historical marker. That Barca would win the League again 14 years later.

20 years after the win at the Bernabeu, Johan Cruyff would repeat another 5-0 as Barca coach. The coach changed the philosophy of the club by winning 4 consecutive leagues and the coveted European Cup in Wembley (1992). The “Manita” achieved in the 1993-1994 season was the culmination of a glorious stage with the benches.

A year and a day later, Real Madrid returned the “Manita” in 1994-95. Zamorano, Luis Enrique and Amavisca scored on a historic night that ended with Cruyff’s “Dream Team”. It was the first year of Michael Laudrup in white, who took revenge on his former team. The Whites recovered the League after 4 consecutive League wins of the Catalans.

Luis Enrique and the historic transfer of Luis Figo

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In the summer of 1996, Luis Enrique signed with Barcelona. The Spaniard had not triumphed in the Real house but he managed perfectly with the Barca feeling. As soon as he arrived in Barcelona, he reneged on his Madrid past and was inflated to score goals against his ex-club.

Luis Figo took the opposite path in the year 2000. Florentino Perez reached an agreement with the captain of Barcelona and won the presidential elections of Real Madrid holding the Portuguese hand. The whites paid the clause of 60 million euros to get the star of their biggest rival. In October, Madrid visited Camp Nou and Figo received the “boo” of the century. The fans call him Judas, they threw tickets with his picture.

In 2002 Figo returned to the Camp Nou but this time he decided not to be impressed. The atmosphere was very hostile again and every time he got close to taking the corner, objects of all kinds rained down on him. Among them, a bottle of whiskey and a head of suckling pig. The game was interrupted for a few minutes but it resumed despite the hostility. The score of 0-0 was practically anecdotal.

The Present Era

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Since the turn of the century, the two Spanish giants have won nine of the 17 Champions League titles. They’ve also soaked up all but three La Liga titles since 2001 as the duopoly sinks its hooks deeper into the coffers of Spanish soccer. As two of the dominant sides in Europe, Real and Barcelona have become destinations for the world’s greatest players. Since Figo’s transfer between the two El Clasico rivals in 2000, five of the past six latest world-record transfer fees in the new century have involved players either moving to or from a Spanish club.

There was nothing that guaranteed El Clasico would turn into the biggest rivalry game in the world. Most rivalries in soccer around the globe are predicated on proximity; Barcelona and Madrid are more than 300 miles apart. But they’ve both been good regularly, and at the same time, and that certainly helps build bad blood between two teams.

The combination of a long history of competition against one another, the politics that inevitably come to shape the evolution of particular clubs and fan bases and the fact that the two clubs have historically been perennial contenders have all played a role in developing the rivalry we now know as El Clasico. Keep that in mind when you see the two teams square away in the next edition of a legendary duel.

The Superstars

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El Clasico has always been memorable for the quality of players on display. The likes of Di Stefano, Emilio Butrageuno, Johan Cruyff, Ronaldinho, and of modern times Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, have all graced Clasicos down the years. It is a shame, therefore, that the modern-day Clasico has often been overshadowed by play-acting and simulation from both sides. The soccer seems to have taken a back seat, with the amount of yellow and red cards being the more important statistic. But whilst these two great teams remain rivals, El Clasico, the second-most watched soccer match in the world, will continue to be a spectacle for all.

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