El Clasico – the history

El Clasico – the history

Real Madrid found themselves falling behind Barcelona during this period but they bounced back to win three European titles in 1998, 2000 and 2002.

El Clasico. No two words can grab the attention of football buffs quite like the well-known rivalry between two of the best clubs in the world. The 179th El Clasico is scheduled at Camp Nou on Wednesday, which is one of the most anticipated sports events and has split the globe into two factions – Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

A derby that is seen by nearly 400 million people around the world, El Clasico has never been a rivalry about modern football greats Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but about the two largest cities of Spain.

The national capital Madrid, which is geographically at the centre of Spain, is considered the social and political centre of the country. On the other hand, Barcelona, capital of the Catalan region that wants independence from Spain, is considered the pride and symbol of Catalonia.

Without getting into the political dilemmas of Spain, let's look at how the rivalry was formed and how it developed into one of the great sporting rivalries in history.

The story

Barcelona was founded on Nov. 29, 1899, when an athlete from Switzerland named Joan Gamper put an advertisement in a sports magazine and took efforts to form a new football club.

In February the next year, Real Madrid was founded. The first official match between the two clubs was played on May 13, 1902, which resulted in a Barcelona win in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey cup.

11-1 humiliation

In the 1930s, the political situation in Spain became complicated and military dictatorship was imposed in the country. Football continued to be played around the country despite political instability and Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 3-0 at home in the semi-final of the Copa del Rey. The away match in Madrid resulted in a shocking 11-1 defeat to the Catalan side.

The reasons for the poor Barcelona performance were revealed later. Before the match started, the Spanish army who favoured Real Madrid, went to the dressing room of the Catalan team and threatened them, thus Madrid gained the advantage and reached the finals of the competition.

Hiring Di Stefano

During the summer of 1953, Barcelona reached an agreement with River Plate for the ‘Blond Arrow’ from Argentina, Alfredo di Stefano. After the deal was closed, Real Madrid agreed on terms with the Columbian club Los Millionarios, for which Di Stefano was playing that season on a loan basis from River Plate. 

The Spanish court was not clear which club had the ownership of the player and the order came in favour of Real Madrid. As a result, Real Madrid dominated Europe winning 5 European cups and 8 La Liga titles in the next decade. The Argentine striker netted 18 goals against FC Barcelona, which made him the top scorer of El Clasico and later an idol in Madrid.

Impact of Johan Cruyff

After Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff joined Barcelona from Ajax, on Feb. 17, 1974, Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 5-0 at their home ground. Cruyff silenced home supporters with his ‘total football’, the style of play Barcelona are known for, even today. With Cruyff pulling the strings, Barcelona went on to win the Spanish League title that season, after 14 years.

Cruyff repeated the 5-0 success against Real Madrid 20 years later as Barcelona coach. Under Cruyff, Barcelona won four consecutive league titles and their first European title in 1992, making them one of the best teams in Europe.

Real Madrid found themselves falling behind Barcelona during this period but they bounced back to win three European titles in 1998, 2000 and 2002.

The Clasico of shame, Luis Figo transfer 

In the summer of 2000, Florentino Perez won the presidential elections at Real Madrid, which forced Luis Figo to leave Barcelona for Madrid, according to the deal made by Perez before the elections. This made Luis Figo a saviour in the capital and Judas in Catalonia.

When Madrid visited Camp Nou that season, Barcelona fans booed Figo, called him Judas and treated him like he had committed high treason. In 2002, a bottle of whiskey and the head of a pig was thrown at Figo at the same stadium. The game was interrupted many times and later came to be known as ‘The Clasico of shame.’

Other players who played for both clubs are Luis Enrique, Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldo from Brazil.

The 21st Century

Since the turn of the century, the two Spanish sides dominated by bagging nine of the 17 European League titles, more commonly known as the UEFA Champions League. As a result, both clubs became dream destinations for global stars and promising young players.

Real Madrid formed a special team at the turn of the century. Nicknamed ‘Los Galacticos’, the team featured players like David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Figo and Fabio Cannavaro. Despite having such squad strength, they failed to win a major title from 2003 to 2006.

Barcelona had talents like Deco, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and a bunch of graduates of ‘La Masia’, FC's Barcelona youth football academy -- Victor Valdez, Carlos Puyol, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. After Pep Guardiola took charge as manager of the club, one of the best Barcelona sides of the modern era emerged with players like Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta operating the tiki-taka style of play.

Then came the era of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who kept winning the FIFA best player awards. Ronaldo won three consecutive UCL titles with Real Madrid before leaving for Juventus in the summer of 2018, thus ending one of the best player rivalries in Spain.

Superstar players and brilliant coaches were signed by both clubs after getting financial freedom in recent years. Both teams have gone through disappointing times and successful reigns but the intensity of the rivalry has not changed. El Clasico will always be one of the great sporting contests of the world.

 Head to head and records 

A total of 242 matches have been played between the two sides, excluding friendly games:

FC Barcelona wins – 96 

Real Madrid wins – 95

Draws – 51

In Spanish La Liga alone:

FC Barcelona wins – 72

Ream Madrid wins – 72

Draw – 34

Most El Clasico appearances:

Sergio Ramos – 42 matches 

Xavi Hernandez – 42 matches

Top scorers:

Lionel Messi – 26 goals

Alfredo di Stefano – 18 goals

Most assists leading to a goal:

Lionel Messi – 14 assists

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