Once again the two prevailing superpowers of Spanish football square off to determine the fate of La Liga…sort of. To many a football purist this is the most important fixture on the calendar. It’s the match where everyone has a preference. Either one is rooting for FC Barcelona and the more grounded values the club promotes and stands for, or cheers for the lavish extravaganza courtesy of Real Madrid. La Blaugrana have become synonymous with eye-catching football where possession borders on obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s pass, pass, and if possible, pass some more. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Contrary to popular opinion la Blaugrana don’t have to change their philosophy, maybe just tweak it a little.
Conversely, Real Madrid has been transitioning for a while now. Even if the Spanish capital outfit has had its fair share of success, winning 3 La Liga titles since 2003 and 1 Copa del Rey (the equivalent to the FA Cup), Los Blancos have yet to justify the title they bestowed upon themselves “the world’s greatest team.” If a project is coined the Galacticos one is expecting the most dominant team ever to set foot on a football pitch – not just the assembly of mega-expensive players who appear to have been chosen for their price-tag as opposed to their abilities.
Thus far Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has failed to deliver La Decima (Real Madrid lingo for the 10th Champions League triumph). Even worse, Perez infatuation with the greater commercialization of Real Madrid enabled Barcelona to dislodge the Merengues as the preeminent team in Spain, and Europe (save for the manhandling the Blaugrana experienced at the hands of Bayern Munich at semi-final stage in 2012-13).
Legend has it Perez opted against signing Ronaldinho because he was deemed too ugly to sell shirts. In his stead Perez acquired Posh Boy alias David Beckham who by no means is/was a bad football – he just wasn’t anywhere near the Brazilians level. While Beckham helped the Madrid club sell merchandise, Ronaldinho led Barcelona’s revival and ascension back to the pinnacle of football (he also sold quite a few shirts between Catalunya and, well, the rest of the world).
One of Perez favorite sayings is “He (enter the name of your favorite footballer here) was born to play for Real Madrid,” but it appears as if the individuals whose sole existence only serves to fulfill that prophecy aren’t good enough to best FC Barcelona and their mostly homegrown squad. But Perez, his players, and Madrid fans don’t let little things such as facts interfere with their worldview. We are the best. Even if has been 11 years since Madrid last appeared in a Champions League final. In the meantime Barcelona won the Champions League 3 times, 6 La Liga titles, 2 Copa del Reys, 2 Club World Cups, 2 Uefa Supercups, plus some several other minor titles.
Even, or especially when it comes to the ongoing and never-ending debate on who is the best player on the planet Real Madrid fans, and slightly Premier League-biased pundits will almost automatically favor Cristiano Ronaldo over Lionel Messi. Apparently, Messi has to test himself in the Premier League because Ronaldo did it, and it’s the best championship in the world.
Well, he doesn’t. Just because the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, or even Manchester United, can and sometimes do lose against random mid-table clubs doesn’t make it a more competitive league. In the end only since 2000 only four clubs have won the title (Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City & Chelsea). Ignoring City’s triumph in 2011-12, only 2 teams have won the championship since 2004 – Manchester United and Chelsea. It’s hardly the evidence of anything.
Looking at the statistics the eventual champion and the runner-up in both leagues accumulate just exactly the same amount of points on average. Only the third-placed team in England gathers significantly more points than its Spanish counterpart.
One is perception, the other facts. Fans and pundits who like to stress the validity of their argument will always make a case for “more complete” when the numbers don’t support their notion. In Ronaldo’s case it means he is by default superior to Messi because he is tall, he can shoot with both legs, is pacy and a great header of the ball. Messi on the other is rather small, as one-footed as anyone, and not exactly big on fancy footwork. Yet the diminutive Argentine scores a lot, usually more than Ronaldo, in any competition, not to mention in fewer games than Ronaldo, plus he has also created the most goals for his teammates, a distinction he holds with a certain German international that plays for Arsenal these days.
The latest edition of El Clasico will (hopefully) feature Barcelona’s Neymar and Madrid’s Gareth Bale, whose attributes are strikingly similar to the aforementioned Messi and Ronaldo. Neymar, the skillful South American forward with impeccable close control, and Bale, the winger with pace to burn who honed his skills in the Premier League prior to joining Real Madrid.
Critics easily dismiss Neymar as an inferior player to Bale because he also isn’t an athlete like the Welshman or Ronaldo. They also argue that Neymar is perceived to be a great player because the Brazilian league is inferior to the Premier League.
What they fail to mention or consider is that though Neymar is 3 years Bale’s junior he has more international experience than Madrid’s no. 11. Over the summer Neymar was elected the best player of the Confederations Cup after tearing apart the defenses of co-favorites for the 2014 World Cup Italy and Spain on the way to win the title. Additionally, Neymar has also led Santos to the Copa Libertadores (the South American equivalent of the Champions League) in 2011, at the tender age of 19.
Prior to joining Los Blancos Bale has only once experienced a Champions League campaign. Sure, he did score a hat-trick against Inter Milan but the Italian side has been in free fall ever since Mourinho departed the club, plus Maicon and his teammates were already on the wane.
Luckily El Clasico offers an opportunity for both sets of fans to further scrutinize the clubs, the players, and ammunition for even more debates.
Whether it is Barcelona v Madrid, Messi v Ronaldo, Neymar v Bale, chances are tensions are still high after the referee blows the final whistle.
Follow Sebastian on Twitter @JubeiKibagame