Besides trophies, personal and team records, the history of football has been based around great rivalries. One of the most spectacular is that between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, in the encounter known as 'El Clásico.' It has become a global phenomenon, and the next edition is less than a fortnight away.
A brief history of El Clásico
FC Barcelona were founded in 1899 and Real Madrid three years later, in 1902. It was the latter year in which the first El Clásico was played. It was part of the 'Concurso Madrid de Foot-Ball Association,' better known as the Copa de la Coronación, an unofficial competition. The majority of the initial games between the two teams were friendlies, given that LaLiga had yet to be formed and the only national competition was the Copa de España.
A rivalry from the beginning
With the passage of time, the fixture became more regular -especially after LaLiga was founded in 1929.
Disputes over signings -such as the battle for Alfredo di Stefano's signature in the 1950s- and controversial refereeing decisions only served to heat up the rivalry. The two clubs also boasted the best players of the era, such as Ladislao Kubala and Luis Suárez for Barça and Ferenc Puskas and Di Stefano for Real Madrid.
In the middle of the 20th Century, the rivalry took on a new dimension. It was still known as a derby, rather than 'El Clásico' despite both teams being from different cities.
High scoring games and excellent play
The rivalry did not wane over the decades, and in general the games remained evenly matched. That did not prevent some more comprehensive results between Barça and Real Madrid, however. Some such Barça wins helped coin a very famous term that is used today: ‘La Manita,’ or 5 goals against the eternal rivals.
One of the most remembered was that of 1974, when Johan Cruyff was at his peak: the 0-5 victory at the Santiago Bernabéu is still remembered as one of the greatest El Clásico performances, with the Dutchman as captain of the team.
But for the younger generations, Barça's 5-0 result in 1994, with Cruyff as coach and with Romario in the starring role, is the more famous fixture.
Although Real Madrid returned the favour with their own 5-0 win the following year at the Bernabéu, it has been the Blaugrana who have been able to achieve the feat the most times in the fixture: In 2011, the team led by Pep Guardiola did so against José Mourinho's Madrid, and in 2018 the same thing happened with Ernesto Valverde's squad against a Madrid coached by Julen Lopetegui.
Five goals is not the limit, however, and a 2-6 result in 2009 at the Bernabéu is the best example of the excellence that was achieved the year that the team won six trophies.
Clásicos with backstories
In addition to trophies and goals, El Clásico has always been littered with smaller stories. For example, the "painful" switching of sides by some of the players. The most famous were, perhaps, those of Bernd Schuster, Michael Laudrup and Luis Figo, who left Barcelona to move to Real Madrid. But there are also other examples in reverse, such as Luis Enrique or Samuel Eto’o.
Hristo Stoichkov, Rivaldo, Hugo Sánchez or Raúl González were other players who, with their gestures or celebrations, personified the high level of tension experienced on the pitch during El Clásico.
Other moments, such as the intermediation of Josep Tarradellas to "seal the peace" before El Clásico in 1980, have defined the fixture. Or Santiago Bernabéu intervening so that Kubala could meet with his mother at Christmas in 1961. Guards of honour for the champions, ovations from the Camp Nou for Cunningham in 1980 and from the Bernabéu to Ronaldinho in 2005. Or the friendship of Xavi and Iker Casillas, who received the 2012 Prince of Asturias Award for Sports.
Stars in the last decade
The last decade has had two prominen figures attract attention: Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Argentine and the Portuguese, multiple winners of the Ballon d'Or, crossed paths other very often while they coincided in Spain. They did so in all competitions, not only in LaLiga but also Copa del Rey finals, Champions League semi-finals and even 'summer El Clásicos', with the Super Cup between Barça and Real Madrid a recurring event.
The supporting cast were a host of great players who have helped turn El Clásico into a global phenomenon: Xavi, Iniesta, Neymar, Busquets, Piqué, Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Modric, contributing to maintaining the rivalry between Barça and Real Madrid at the pinnacle of world football.
FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid statistics
Who has won El Clásico the most?
Overall, the statistics read as follows:
- Total wins for FC Barcelona: 97
- Total wins for Real Madrid: 101
- Draws: 52
- Goals for FC Barcelona: 409
- Goals for Real Madrid: 418
- Home wins for FC Barcelona: 62
- Home wins for Real Madrid: 65
More details on Barça's acheivements can be found here. Previous El Clásicos can also be watched to relive one of the biggest rivalries in the sport.