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:

(USERS OF MOBILE DEVICES SHOULD ROTATE TO HORIZONTAL VIEW TO SEE THE COMPLETE TABLE)

COUNTRYMOST TITLESNUMBER 2ND MOST TITLES NUMBER
UkraineDynamo Kyiv14Shakhtar 11
Scotland Celtic 14Rangers11
Uruguay Nacional12Peñarol11
Jordan Al-Wehdat 13Al-Faisaly10
NetherlandsPSV 11Ajax10
Costa RicaDep. Saprissa 11.5Alajuelense9.5
Mali Stade Malien 16Djoliba9
Serbia Partizan 15Red Star9
Tanzania Young Africans 12Simba9
EstoniaFlora 11Levadia9
Guatemala Comunicaciones 11.5CSD Municipal8.5
Sudan Al-Hilal Club 17Al-Merrikh SC8
Spain FC Barcelona 12Real Madrid8
KuwaitAl-Qadisiya10Al-Kuwait8
Poland Legia Warsaw9Wisła Kraków8
Malawi BulletsSilver Strikers8

 

  • 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:

 

COUNTRYTWO HIGHEST VALUED SQUADSCOMBINED 'BIG TWO' VALUE
(€ MILLIONS)
Spain FC Barcelona, Real Madrid2,143
England Man City, Liverpool 2,056
Italy Juventus, Inter 1,379
FrancePSG, Lyon 1,301
Germany Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund1,301 
NetherlandsAjax, PSV585
PortugalPorto, Benfica556
Russia Zenit, CSKA 300
Belgium Brugge, Genk 208
ArgentinaBoca Juniors, River Plate 203
UkraineShakhtar, Dynamo Kyiv189
TurkeyFenerbahçe, Galatasaray187
Brazil Palmeiras, Flamengo187
Austria Red Bull Salzburg, Rapid Vienna 164
MexicoMonterrey, Tigres147
China Guangzhou E., Shanghai SIPG145
ScotlandCeltic, Rangers137
GreeceOlympiacos, PAOK117
Switzerland Young Boys, Basel 117
Saudi Arabia Al Ahli, Al Nassr117

 

  • 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).

 

COUNTRYTWO TEAMS WITH BIGGEST HOME CROWDS (LEAGUE ONLY) COMBINED AVERAGE ATTENDANCE
Germany Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund154,497
England Man United, Tottenham Hotspur142,472
Spain FC Barcelona, Real Madrid 137,078
Italy Inter, AC Milan 110,219
ScotlandCeltic, Rangers105,314
Portugal Benfica, FC Porto 96,832
NetherlandsAjax, Feyenoord95,258
FrancePSG, Marseille93,546
USA Atlanta United, Seatlle Sounders 91,866
IranEsteghlal FC, Tractor Sazi88,516
ArgentinaBoca Juniors, River Plate83,000
ChinaGuangzhou E., Chongqing DL81,212
MexicoTigres UANL, America77,658
BrazilCorinthians, Sao Paulo76,055
Turkey Galatasaray. Fenerbahce74,823
RussiaZenit, Spartak Moscow 74,152
Japan Urawa RD, FC Tokyo 60,033
ChileUniversidad, Colo Colo 54,252
India Kerala Blasters, Jamshedpur53,137
Belgium Brugge, Standard Liege49,882

 

  • 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.

 

COUNTRYTWO TEAMS WITH HIGHEST DIGITAL IMPACT (LEAGUE ONLY) COMBINED TOTAL GDFB
Spain FC Barcelona, Real Madrid 482992
EnglandMan United, Chelsea 227154
ItalyJuventus, AC Milan 113900
GermanyBayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund107668
FrancePSG, Marseille77059
TurkeyGalatasaray, Fenerbahçe49430
BrazilCorinthians, Flamengo 43622
ArgentinaBoca Juniors, River Plate 31609
EgyptAl-Ahly, Zamalek 31473
MexicoAmerica, Guadalajara 28676
Indonesia Persib Bandung,Persija Jakarta21092
S. ArabiaAl Hilal, Al-Ittihad17352
ChinaGuangzhou E., Shandong L.13018
ColombiaAtletico Nacional, Millonarios12865
PortugalFC Porto, Benfica12202
PeruUniversitario, Alianza8476
S. AfricaKaiser Chiefs, Orlando Pirates8322
NetherlandsAjax, PSV7658
RussiaZenit, Spartak Moscow7324
USALA Galaxy, New York City7322

 

  • 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?

Força Barça
Força Barça
Close article