El Clásico: The greatest game on Earth?

El Clásico: The greatest game on Earth?

The meeting of La Liga's two biggest teams is always a massive occasion, but how big is it compared to similar clashes in other leagues? We did the maths...

FC Barcelona versus Real Madrid. The biggest club fixture in world football. At least that’s how we think of El Clásico.

But many claim that games like Celtic v Rangers, Boca v River, Al Ahly v Zamalek and others are just as big. So we thought we’d do some investigating and find out how much the rivalry, grandeur, importance and sheer quality of our Clásico stand up against similar fixtures around the world.

Clásico … not a derby

Barça v Madrid has only been called ‘El Clásico’ since around the turn of the century, when the term was imported from Latin America.

It’s important to note that it is not the same thing as a ‘derby’. Newcastle v Sunderland, Sevilla v Betis, San Lorenzo v Huracan … and indeed Barça v Espanyol and Real Madrid v Atlético … are all great fixtures in their right, but that’s not what a ‘Clásico’ is all about. It’s not about local rivalries; it refers to a meeting between the two ‘giants’ of a given championship.


The Big Two?

There is absolutely no question that that is the case with FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Between them, the two clubs have won 20 of the last 25 editions (80%) of La Liga.

So how does that duopoly compare with other leagues? We took the two most successful sides in the last 25 editions of every one of the world’s domestic leagues to see how they measure up to Barça and Madrid in terms of dominance.

As many countries have a single club that wins the league more often than not, we found the most accurate representation of a ‘big two’ was to rank them by the number of leagues won by the second most successful club. Note that in Latin American countries that have an ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ championship, we counted each title as a half. The result was the following table:


Ukraine Dynamo Kyiv 14 Shakhtar  11
Scotland  Celtic  14 Rangers 11
Uruguay  Nacional 12 Peñarol 11
Jordan  Al-Wehdat  13 Al-Faisaly 10
Netherlands PSV  11 Ajax 10
Costa Rica Dep. Saprissa  11.5 Alajuelense 9.5
Mali  Stade Malien  16 Djoliba 9
Serbia  Partizan  15 Red Star 9
Tanzania  Young Africans  12 Simba 9
Estonia Flora  11 Levadia 9
Guatemala  Comunicaciones  11.5 CSD Municipal 8.5
Sudan  Al-Hilal Club  17 Al-Merrikh SC 8
Spain  FC Barcelona  12 Real Madrid 8
Kuwait Al-Qadisiya 10 Al-Kuwait 8
Poland  Legia Warsaw 9 Wisła Kraków 8
Malawi  Bullets Silver Strikers 8


  • Out of over 200 national leagues, La Liga ranks thirteenth in terms of the dominance of its ‘big two’. Classic fixtures like Celtic v Rangers and Peñarol v Nacional rank even higher, but others are nowhere to be seen. Zamalek have only won three Egyptian leagues this century, so their famous rivalry with Al Ahly fails to make the list. In Argentina, half the titles have been won by teams other than Boca Juniors or River Plate. And the most extreme case is Mexico, where the two traditional giants, América and Guadalajara, have won a combined total of just 12% of the titles contested since 1994. 
  • 100% of the last 25 Ukrainian, Scottish, Malian and Sudanese championships have been won by just two teams in the last quarter of a century, and Vojvodina is the only team to have broken the duopoly in Serbia.
  • Particularly surprising is PSV/Ajax in fifth place, despite Holland traditionally having a ‘big three’ that also includes Feyenoord. The same is true of Portugal (Porto 15, Benfica 7), which has two dominant clubs despite Sporting also being considered part of a ‘big three’.
  • FYI, the the other ‘big five’ leagues in Europe: France (PSG 7; Lyon 7), Italy (Juventus 12; AC Milan 4), England (Man United 12; Chelsea 5), Germany (Bayern 16; Dortmund 5).


Quality not quantity

Barça and Madrid’s dominance is particularly impressive considering they come from one of the strongest, if not the strongest, leagues in the world. Nineteen different clubs from La Liga have reached at least the quarter finals of European competitions in that same 25 year period!

There is no precise way of measuring the potential quality of a football fixture, but the financial worth of the players is a good indicator. Taking the values attributed to the two most expensive squads in every league by the www.transfermarkt.com website, we came up with the following table:


Spain  FC Barcelona, Real Madrid 2,143
England  Man City, Liverpool  2,056
Italy  Juventus, Inter  1,379
France PSG, Lyon  1,301
Germany  Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund 1,301 
Netherlands Ajax, PSV 585
Portugal Porto, Benfica 556
Russia  Zenit, CSKA  300
Belgium  Brugge, Genk  208
Argentina Boca Juniors, River Plate  203
Ukraine Shakhtar, Dynamo Kyiv 189
Turkey Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray 187
Brazil  Palmeiras, Flamengo 187
Austria  Red Bull Salzburg, Rapid Vienna  164
Mexico Monterrey, Tigres 147
China  Guangzhou E., Shanghai SIPG 145
Scotland Celtic, Rangers 137
Greece Olympiacos, PAOK 117
Switzerland  Young Boys, Basel  117
Saudi Arabia  Al Ahli, Al Nassr 117


  • El Clásico leads the way in terms of quality the players on show. Only the Premiership even comes close, but the ‘richest’ squads of Man City and Liverpool having just three titles between them since 1995 is proof of what we already knew. There are no particular ‘big two’ in England. 
  • The table also shows how far ahead the ‘big five’ are, and by extension Europe. Boca v River is the highest valued non-European Clásico in tenth place – and look at China creeping up
  • It’s curious to note that the two most valuable squads in Mexico don’t belong to the ‘big two’ of America and Guadalajara.


The fans

A Clásico would be nothing without the fans. Again, it’s impossible to assess who has the ‘best’ fans, but they can be ranked in terms of numbers. In the following table, we have ordered countries by their top two clubs in terms of average league attendance (based on the most recent complete season for which figures are available).


Germany  Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund 154,497
England  Man United, Tottenham Hotspur 142,472
Spain  FC Barcelona, Real Madrid  137,078
Italy  Inter, AC Milan  110,219
Scotland Celtic, Rangers 105,314
Portugal  Benfica, FC Porto  96,832
Netherlands Ajax, Feyenoord 95,258
France PSG, Marseille 93,546
USA  Atlanta United, Seatlle Sounders  91,866
Iran Esteghlal FC, Tractor Sazi 88,516
Argentina Boca Juniors, River Plate 83,000
China Guangzhou E., Chongqing DL 81,212
Mexico Tigres UANL, America 77,658
Brazil Corinthians, Sao Paulo 76,055
Turkey  Galatasaray. Fenerbahce 74,823
Russia Zenit, Spartak Moscow  74,152
Japan  Urawa RD, FC Tokyo  60,033
Chile Universidad, Colo Colo  54,252
India  Kerala Blasters, Jamshedpur 53,137
Belgium  Brugge, Standard Liege 49,882


  • Barça and Madrid have traditionally led this chart as well, but all credit to the amazing supporters of Borussia and Bayern for claiming top spot. 
  • In fact, El Clásico has dropped to third, although this can be ‘blamed’ on the fact that Tottenham played at Wembley last season.
  • There are a few surprises here, with the top pairs from the USA, Iran and India all in the top twenty, while no Latin American countries make the top ten.
  • Feyenoord and Marseille are two fine examples of teams that are still drawing bigger crowds despite having more successful rivals.
  • Also note that the Cairo derby between Al Ahly v Zamalek is missing due to the ban on spectators at league matches in Egypt.


All around the world

But these days, a big football match is not just about the people that watch it in the stadium. Radio has given way to television and the Internet, and football has become a truly global experience.

To assess how much a game matters not just to the locals, but to people all around the planet, we used the Global Digital Football Benchmark, again picking the two highest ranked clubs from each country.


Spain  FC Barcelona, Real Madrid  482992
England Man United, Chelsea  227154
Italy Juventus, AC Milan  113900
Germany Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund 107668
France PSG, Marseille 77059
Turkey Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe 49430
Brazil Corinthians, Flamengo  43622
Argentina Boca Juniors, River Plate  31609
Egypt Al-Ahly, Zamalek  31473
Mexico America, Guadalajara  28676
Indonesia  Persib Bandung,Persija Jakarta 21092
S. Arabia Al Hilal, Al-Ittihad 17352
China Guangzhou E., Shandong L. 13018
Colombia Atletico Nacional, Millonarios 12865
Portugal FC Porto, Benfica 12202
Peru Universitario, Alianza 8476
S. Africa Kaiser Chiefs, Orlando Pirates 8322
Netherlands Ajax, PSV 7658
Russia Zenit, Spartak Moscow 7324
USA LA Galaxy, New York City 7322


  • When it comes to a global audience, there is absolutely nothing to compare with El Clásico. It more than doubles anything that the Premiership has to offer, and quadruples Italy and Germany
  • Much as games like Peñarol v Nacional in Uruguay and Celtic v Rangers in Scotland are huge affairs locally, in terms of overall numbers there are rivalries in less traditional footballing countries like Indonesia, China and Saudi Arabia that get more attention.

The verdict

Numbers don’t prove everything, but analysed overall in terms of being a huge game between two ‘giants’ of their domestic leagues, the quality of the players on show, and the number of fans both inside the stadium and following the game around the world, it’s hard to find any game that matches FC Barcelona v Real Madrid.

There are, of course, many ‘intangible’ factors that can’t be measured statistically, but the sheer intensity of the Barça-Madrid rivalry, making it much more than football match in so many respects, only add further fuel to the claim that this is indeed the greatest game on earth.

What do you think?

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