El Clásico

El Clásico, is the name given in football to any match between fierce rivals Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona. Originally it referred only to those competitions held in the Spanish championship, but nowadays the term has been generalized, and tends to include every single match between the two clubs: UEFA Champions League, Copa del Rey, etc. Other than the UEFA Champions League Final, it is the biggest football club game in the world, and is among the most viewed annual sports events

The rivalry comes about as Madrid and Barcelona are the two largest cities in Spain, and they are sometimes identified with opposing political positions, with Real Madrid viewed as representing Spanish nationalism and Barcelona viewed as representing Catalan nationalism. The rivalry is regarded as one of the biggest in world sport. The two clubs are among the richest and most successful football clubs in the world; in 2014 they were ranked the world’s two most valuable sports teams. Both clubs have a global fanbase; they are the world’s two most followed sports teams on social media.

Real Madrid leads the head to head results in competitive matches with 92 wins to Barcelona’s 89, while Barcelona leads in total matches with 108 wins to Real Madrid’s 96. Along with Athletic Bilbao, they are the only clubs in La Liga to have never been relegated.

Historic divisions

Santiago Bernabéu, home of Real Madrid, hosted its first Clásico in 1948

Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona, hosted its first Clásico in 1958

The conflict between Real Madrid and Barcelona has long surpassed the sporting dimension, so that elections to the clubs’ presidencies are strongly politicized.

As early as the 1930s, Barcelona “had developed a reputation as a symbol of Catalan identity, opposed to the centralising tendencies of Madrid”. In 1936, when Francisco Franco started the Coup d’état against the democratic Second Spanish Republic, the president of Barcelona, Josep Sunyol, member of the Republican Left of Catalonia and Deputy to The Cortes, was arrested and executed without trial by Franco’s troops (Sunyol was exercising his political activities, visiting Republican troops north of Madrid).

Barcelona was on top of the list of organizations to be purged by the National faction, just after communists, anarchists, and independentists. During the Franco dictatorship, most citizens of Barcelona were in strong opposition to the fascist-like régime. Phil Ball, the author of Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football, says about the match; “they hate each other with an intensity that can truly shock the outsider”.

During the dictatorships of Miguel Primo de Rivera and of Francisco Franco, all regional languages and identities in Spain were frowned upon and restrained. In this period, Barcelona gained their motto més que un club (English: More than a club) because of its alleged connection to Catalan nationalist beliefs and its representative role for that land. During Franco’s regime, however, Barcelona was granted profit due to its good relationship with the dictator at management level, even giving two awards to him. The links between senior Real Madrid representatives and the Francoist regime were undeniable; for most of the Catalans, Real Madrid was regarded as “the establishment club”, despite the fact that presidents of both clubs like Josep Sunyol and Rafael Sánchez Guerra, suffered at the hands of Franco’s supporters in the Spanish Civil War.

The image for both clubs was further affected by the creation of Ultras groups, some of which became hooligans. In 1980, Ultras Sur was founded as a far-right-leaning Real Madrid ultras group, followed in 1981 by the foundation of the far-right, Barcelona ultras group Boixos Nois. Both groups became known for their violent acts, and one of the most conflictive factions of Barcelona supporters, the Casuals, became a full-fledged criminal organisation. For many people, Barcelona is still considered as “the rebellious club”, or the alternative pole to “Real Madrid’s conservatism”. Moreover, according to a Spanish poll released by CIS (Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas), Real Madrid’s followers tend to adopt right-wing views, while Barcelona fans are politically closer associated with the left-wing, except in Catalonia, where right-wing Catalan nationalists and non-nationalists overwhelmingly support Barcelona. However, among the voters of the biggest center-left party of Spain, PSOE, Real Madrid fan base is bigger than Barcelona’s.

 1943 Copa del Generalísimo semi-finals

On 13 June 1943, Real Madrid beat Barcelona 11–1 at home in the second leg of a semi-final of the Copa del Generalísimo, the Copa del Rey having been renamed in honour of General Franco. The first leg, played at Barcelona’s Les Corts stadium in Catalonia, had ended with Barcelona winning 3–0, and it has been suggested that for the second leg in Madrid, Barcelona players were intimidated by police, including by the director of state security who “allegedly told the team that some of them were only playing because of the regime’s generosity in permitting them to remain in the country.” The Barcelona chairman, Enric Piñeyro, was assaulted by Madrid fans. According to Spanish journalist and writer, Juan Carlos Pasamontes, Barcelona player Josep Valle denied that the Spanish security forces came into the Barcelona dressing room before the match. Instead, at the end of the first half, Barcelona coach Juan José Nogués and all of his players were angry with the hard-style of play Real Madrid was using and with the aggressiveness of the home crowd. When they refused to take the field, the Superior Chief of Police of Madrid appeared, identified himself, and ordered the team to take the field.

A newspaper called the scoreline “as absurd as it was abnormal”. According to football writer Sid Lowe; “There have been relatively few mentions of the game [since] and it is not a result that has been particularly celebrated in Madrid. Indeed, the 11-1 occupies a far more prominent place in Barcelona’s history.” Fernando Argila, Barcelona’s reserve goalkeeper from the game, said: “There was no rivalry. Not, at least, until that game.”

 Di Stéfano transfer

Alfredo Di Stéfano’s controversial 1953 transfer to Real Madrid instead of Barcelona intensified the rivalry

The rivalry was intensified during the 1950s when the clubs disputed the signing of Alfredo Di Stéfano. Di Stéfano had impressed both Barcelona and Real Madrid while playing for Club Deportivo Los Millonarios in Bogotá, Colombia, during a players’ strike in his native Argentina. Both Real Madrid and Barcelona attempted to sign him and, due to confusion that emerged from Di Stéfano moving to Millonarios from Club Atlético River Plate following the strike, both clubs claimed to own his registration. After intervention from FIFA representative Muñoz Calero, it was decided that both Barcelona and Real Madrid had to share the player in alternate seasons. Barcelona’s humiliated president was forced to resign by the Barcelona board, with the interim board cancelling Di Stéfano’s contract. While the club’s official website bitterly bemoans this incident as “a strange federative manoeuvre with Francoist backing”, Real Madrid deny having received any assistance from General Franco. This ended the long struggle for Di Stéfano, as he moved definitively to Real Madrid.

Di Stéfano became integral in the subsequent success achieved by Real Madrid, scoring twice in his first game against Barcelona. With him, Real Madrid won the initial five European Champions Cup competitions. The 1960s saw the rivalry reach the European stage when they met twice at the European Cup, Real Madrid winning in 1960 and Barcelona winning in 1961.

 Recent issues

Luís Figo’s transfer from Barcelona to Real Madrid in 2000 resulted in a hate campaign by some of his former club’s fans

During the last three decades, the rivalry has been augmented by the modern Spanish tradition of the Pasillo, where one team is given the guard of honor by the other team, once the former clinches the La Liga trophy before El Clásico takes place. This has happened in three occasions. First, during El Clásico that took place on 30 April 1988, where Real Madrid won the championship on the previous round. Then, three years later, when Barcelona won the championship two rounds before El Clásico on 8 June 1991. The last pasillo, and most recent, took place on 7 May 2008, and this time Real Madrid had won the championship.

The two teams met again in the UEFA Champions League semi-final in 2002, with Real Madrid winning 2–0 in Barcelona and a 1–1 draw in Madrid. The match was dubbed by Spanish media as the “Match of the Century”.

In 2005, Ronaldinho became the second Barcelona player, after Diego Maradona in 1983, to receive a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabéu.

While El Clásico is regarded as one of the fiercest rivalries in world football, there have been rare moments when fans have shown praise for a player on the opposing team. In 1980, Laurie Cunningham was the first Real Madrid player to receive applause from Barcelona fans at Camp Nou; after excelling during the match and with Madrid winning 2-0, Cunningham left the field to a standing ovation from the locals. On 26 June 1983, during the second leg of the Copa de la Liga final at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, having dribbled past the Real Madrid goalkeeper, Barcelona star Diego Maradona ran towards an empty goal before stopping just as the Madrid defender came sliding in an attempt to block the shot and crashed into the post, before Maradona slotted the ball into the net. The manner of Maradona’s goal led to many Madrid fans inside the stadium start applauding. In November 2005, Ronaldinho became the second Barcelona player to receive a standing ovation from Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabéu. After dribbling through the Madrid defence twice to score two goals in a 3-0 win, Madrid fans paid homage to his performance with applause.

The rivalry has been strengthened over time by the internal transfer of players between the clubs. Barcelona players who have later played for Real Madrid include Bernd Schuster, who switched in 1988; and Michael Laudrup, who went to Real Madrid on a free transfer in 1994. The most notorious, however, was former Barcelona vice-captain Luís Figo’s switch to Madrid in 2000. On his return to Barcelona in a Real Madrid shirt, Figo was mercilessly taunted throughout; banners with “Judas. Scum. Mercenary” were hung around the stadium, and aside from the vociferous abuse, a barrage of missiles reigned down onto the field; the game in 2002 produced one of the defining images of the rivalry when a pig’s head was in among the debris where Figo had been taking a corner. Players transferring from Real Madrid to Barcelona are less frequent, the most recent being Luis Enrique, who went to Barcelona in 1996 where he went on to captain Barcelona, and became the manager of Barcelona in 2014.

Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra in a 2011 El Clásico

A 2007 survey by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas determined that Real Madrid was the team with the largest following in Spain with 32% of the Spanish population supported Real Madrid, while 25% supported Barcelona. In third place came Valencia, who were supported by 5%. According to a poll performed by Ikerfel in 2011 and published in AS, Barcelona is the most popular team in Spain with 44% of preferences, while Real Madrid is in the second place with 37%. In the overall popularity, Atlético Madrid, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao complete the top five. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have a global fanbase and are the world’s two most followed sports teams on social media—on the social networking site Facebook, as of November 2015, Barcelona has 87 million fans, Real Madrid has 84 million fans.

The rivalry intensified in 2011 where, due to the final of the Copa Del Rey and the meeting of the two in the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona and Real Madrid were scheduled to meet each other four times in 18 days. Several accusations of unsportsmanlike behaviour from both teams and a war of words erupted throughout the fixtures which included four red cards. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque stated that he was “concerned” that due to the rising hatred between the two clubs, that this could cause friction in the national team.

In recent years, the rivalry has been “encapsulated” by the rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Following the star signings of Neymar and Luis Suárez to Barcelona, and Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema to Madrid, the rivalry has been expanded to a battle of the clubs attacking trios, BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) vs MSN (Messi, Suárez, Neymar).