Real Madrid versus Barcelona is hardly a fixture in need of much promotion.
Ever since the 1930s, when General Franco seized power in Spain and patronized Real Madrid, El Clasico has been characterized by a clash of opposing political ideologies. Where Barcelona is to this day held up as a symbol of Catalan nationalism, Real Madrid has been traditionally regarded as the club of “the establishment” – the centralized Madrid government.
On the pitch, the Real Madrid versus Barcelona rivalry is stacked with equally compelling narratives. The Clasico clubs have won a combined 15 European Cups, 55 of 83 La Liga titles, and presently possess two of the greatest players of all time in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Furthermore, Real Madrid and Barcelona have spent much of the last decade breaking their own record for fielding the most expensive starting sides in football history when they meet.
But for all of the romance and star attraction that has long informed the fixture, Real Madrid versus Barcelona has in recent seasons become marred by a myriad of increasingly paranoid and bizarre conspiracy and corruption allegations on both sides.
It is in this context that La Liga president Javier Tebas’ admission that he supports Real Madrid has done little to calm tensions ahead of what is already an eagerly anticipated, top-of-the-table clash in the Bernabeu on Saturday evening.
Speaking to the Spanish sports daily AS, Tebas stated that, for the sake of transparency, he wished to make his club allegiances clear ahead of the derby.
“If I say I don’t support Madrid, then that would be hypocritical and I would be painted as a liar. And I certainly don’t like to be called a liar.
“Imagine if I said that I loved all teams, and then it came out that I supported Madrid since I was a boy, went to 27 Clasicos in the past, that I celebrated Madrid wins with friends in a bar.
“I prefer to call it as it is.”
It is difficult to dispute the logic of Tebas’ move. The climate of claim and counter-claim surrounding this fixture is such that a Catalan news outlet would have almost inevitably got its hands on an old picture of the president in a Real Madrid jersey and published it in the aftermath of a bad refereeing decision in every Clasico from now until the end of his tenure.
The timing of the announcement, however, is hardly opportune. While the Clasico rivalry has never been without controversy, relations between the clubs sank to a new low during Jose Mourinho’s time in charge at Real between 2010 and 2013. The Portuguese coach became embroiled in a bitter and at times petty and personal rivalry with his counterpart in the Barcelona dugout, Pep Guardiola, consistently suggesting that the Spanish football federation, as well as UEFA, favored the Catalan club.
Most bizarrely, Mourinho accused Barcelona’s then shirt sponsors UNICEF of being involved in a conspiracy to damage Real Madrid and poked the late Barcelona manager Tito Villanova (then Guardiola’s assistant) in the eye during a sideline fracas.
While the relationship between the two clubs has improved since that nadir, an atmosphere of mistrust remains prevalent. Tebas’ statement will have done little to ease the concerns of Barcelona fans still reeling from the recent claim of an unnamed linesman that the league authorities were putting pressure on officials to favor Real Madrid in Saturday’s Clasico.
Real Madrid versus Barcelona cannot help but be a compelling football spectacle, it is the politics surrounding the fixture which lets it down.
[Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images]