El Clásico. No two words can grasp the sports world’s attention like a matchup between the two of the biggest superpowers in global football.
Real Madrid and FC Barcelona creates divides among social classes and political stances amidst a background of a Civil War-torn past. The two largest cities in Spain, the national capital Madrid, and Barcelona, the capital of the Catalan region seeking independence are the principal cities of a derby that’s seen by nearly 400 million people around the world.
New history is made each time these rivals step on the field with some of the best players in the world playing to prove their skills and lead their team to victory.
An Abridged History of El Clásico
The rivalry between the the two most successful clubs in football started with an oft-ignored political backstory and contrasts in how both clubs were made. FC Barcelona was founded by Joan Gamper along with several foreign-born players in 1899, as Madrid had its club founded with Spaniards at the helm in 1902. Madrid had been long considered as the political and social center of Spain. Regional rivalries would be generated due to the nation’s focus on Madrid, which geographically was also in the center of Spain.
When the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, came of age in 1902, Madrid hosted a tournament and invited FC Barcelona and Basque club Vizcaya. Barcelona defeated Real Madrid, then known as Madrid FC 3-1, but fell to the Basques in the final 2-1. However, all the attention came from the tournament organizers when they noticed the tournament to celebrate a Castilian monarch came down to a Catalan club and a Basque club in the final. So they quickly arranged a “third-place match.” The series between the clubs would continue for a decade, with the Catalans victorious in most of the contests. The rivalry would begin to pick up its’ competitive embers in 1905.
The Spanish Primera Division was founded in 1929, with ten teams. Barcelona hosted Real Madrid in the second round of the new league, with the visitors prevailing 2-1. The Catalan club would repay the favor with a 1-0 win in Madrid, and would win the league. Despite Real Madrid’s two titles in the early days of the league, it was Athletic Bilbao that was the strongest team in Spain in the years leading into the Spanish Civil War.
FC Barcelona was considered to be the symbol of the Catalan people by the centralist government in the 1930s. Military general Francisco Franco, disenchanted with the changing political climate in Spain with the fall of the monarchy, staged a Coup d’état in 1936, leading to a bloody Civil War victory for his Nationalist side in 1939. One of the earliest casualties was of then-FC Barcelona president Josep Sunyol, who was executed without trial by Francoist forces.
Related: History of the Barcelona Crest
The most one-sided result came in 1943, during World War II. In the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey, renamed as the Copa del Generalisimo in honor of Franco’s regime, Real humiliated Barcelona in the second leg 11-1 after Barcelona won the first leg 3-0. The director of Franco’s state security payed the club a visited them prior to the match in Madrid, and reminded the club they were playing for “the generosity of the regime.” The result came as a show of the extent of strength Franco had over Spain. Barcelona FC was forced to change their name to CF Barcelona, and got rid of the Catalan flag on their badge.
Despite these tough times for Barcelona, the club’s motto “Més que un club” (More than a club) was developed around this time, and the club would win titles in the 1940s. In 1953, the two rivals were in the race to acquire superstar striker Alfredo di Stéfano. Di Stéfano, the “Blond Arrow” from Argentina, is considered one of the greatest footballers of all time today. After years of success with national power River Plate, di Stéfano took his talents to Colombia with Los Millionarios.
In the race to obtain di Stéfano’s signature, it would be Barcelona who struck first. But, Barcelona reached a deal with River Plate, whom FIFA recognized as di Stéfano’s employer. After a long bout of negotiations with controversial circumstances, Real Madrid wound up buying di Stéfano away from Millionarios, but paying River Plate the sum of what was paid to them. As a result, the move would result in a period of dominance for Los Merengues, as Real Madrid would win eight La Liga titles, a Copa del Rey, the first five consecutive European Cups and an Intercontinental Cup from 1953 through 1964. In his first match against Barcelona, di Stéfano would score a brace, the first two of his eighteen goals against the Catalan club in all matches.
Over the years, the contrasts on how the two teams operated became apparent, yet very effective. As Real Madrid had a very business-based approach, affording to lure and buy players to play for them, FC Barcelona nurtured and developed their players through their system. When Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff joined Barcelona from Ajax for a then-world record $2 million, he would help win Barcelona’s first La Liga title since 1960, including an emphatic 5-0 road victory at Madrid. A product of the “total football” style of play in his native Netherlands, Cruyff help meld a playing style that Barcelona would be known for even today.
After Franco’s death in 1975, the political state of Spain would be restored, but the fiery passion shared by both clubs continued. The stakes would grow even bigger over the years with more matches, as their rivalry slowly began to eclipse that of the other teams in the nation, often playing for silverware. Even more legends and idols would take their place in the lore of the rivalry. Luis Figo, Portuguese footballing icon, once played for Barcelona and garnered cult status, but when Figo joined Real Madrid in 2000, he was treated by the blaugrana faithful as though he committed high treason. Ronaldo, the phenomenal Brazilian striker, also jumped ship from Barca to Real, though it took a couple seasons.
Real Madrid formed a strong unit at the turn of the 21st Century. “Los Galácticos” was the nickname for a star-studded Real Madrid side that dominated La Liga from 2000 through 2006. Players like David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, and Fabio Cannavaro suited up alongside Figo and Ronaldo. Despite the talent, they failed to win a major title from 2003 to 2006.
Barcelona combated with stars of their own. Deco, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Rafa Marquez would work in tandem with homegrown players Victor Valdez, Carlos Puyol, Andres Iniesta and Xavi.
Most recently, the Pep Guardiola era at Barcelona gave witness to one of the best Barca sides in modern football, with the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta operating the tiki-taka style of play.
Real Madrid has gone back to their Galacticos method of buying superstars, with the past couple of years obtaining players such as Welsh winger Gareth Bale, and most recently, James Rodriguez to boost a side led by Cristiano Ronaldo.The strategy has paid off with Real Madrid winning the UEFA Champions League in 2015/15 and 2016/17, their record 11th and 12th European titles, along with the 2016/17 La Liga title.
Great El Clasico Matches
El Clasico was originally the name applied on to the Barcelona vs Real Madrid matches in La Liga but the term has been broadened to include matches in the Copa del Ray, UEFA Champions League of any other competition.
Needless to say, some great matches have been played over the year and Soccer365 gives our list of some of the most memorable.
Real Madrid 1 – 3 Barcelona (May 13, 1902)
The Inaugural El Clasico
The inaugural El Clasico was played on May 13, 1902. This match was a friendly and played 27 years before the establishment of the La Liga championship in 1929 so not official an ‘El Clasico’ match. Barcelona founder Joan Gamper scored in the match.
Real Madrid 11 – 1 Barcelona (June 13, 1943)
Cope Del Generalisimo
Politics to some degree have played their part in making Barcelona and Real Madrid the teams they are but this match took those connections to a new (unacceptable) level. Barca took the first leg in the Cope Del Generalisimo (now the Copa del Rey) 3-0 but were rumored to have been advised ahead of the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu how displeased General Franco would be if Real’s honor was not kept. Barca fans were not allowed to go the game and the home side heckled and threw coins and other objects at the Barca players. After 30 minutes, Real was up 2-0. They added another 6 before halftime. Real Madrid rarely mentions this match as it was never really a game.
Real Madrid 5 – 0 Barcelona (October 25, 1953)
Di Stefano Transfer Pays Off
Real Madrid and Barcelona battled off the field for the signature of Alfredo di Stefano. The Argentine signed with Barca but ended up at Real with controversy and conspiracy theories following him to Real. Two weeks after signing it became apparent why both clubs wanted him as he scored 2 goals to defeat Barce on the way to helping Real to their first league title in 21 years.
Real Madrid 0 – 5 Barcelona (February 17, 1974)
Dutch maestro Cruyff showcases his skills
Johan Cruyff is a legend and part of that history was written while at Barcelona. The newly acquired Cruyff made an immediate impact on El Clasico hitting 1 goal and assisting on 3 others as Barca ran away with a 5-0 win. It was a catalyst to the side going on to claim their first La Liga title in 14 years.
Barcelona 2 – 2 Real Madrid (October 13, 1999)
Raul Silences the Crowd
Raul is a club legend for Real Madrid. The forward held the club’s all-time goalscoring record with 323 goals before Cristiano Ronaldo overtook him. He single-handily took care of matters at the Camp Nou on October 13, 1999 scoring a brace in the draw. The equalizer came in the 86th minute and Raul’s quiet celebration, putting his finger to his lips with the silenio gesture, said it all. It is an iconic moment and image from the rivalry.
Barcelona 0 – 2 Real Madrid (April 23, 2002)
2002 UEFA Champions League semifinal 1st Leg
This was the first El Clasico in Europe since the 2 sides meet in first round of the 1960/61 Champions League/European Cup. After surviving the first half dominated by the home side, Real Madrid grabbed the advantage in the second half with goals from Zinedine Zidane and Steve McManaman. The win was the first at the Camp Nou in 19 years. Real advanced to the UEFA Champions League final and defeated Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 to win their 9th European Cup/UEFA Champions League title.
Barcelona 0 – 0 Real Madrid (November 23, 2002)
The ‘Derby of Shame’
The match itself was not that spectacular as the final scoreline indicated but the soap opera circus surrounding the match made headlines and gave the derby unique monikers, with Spanish paper Marca calling it the ‘derby of shame’ while AS headlined it ‘Bronx Nou.’ The most exiting event that took place on the pitch was when a suckling pig’s head, a cochinillo, was tossed on the field.
And all the hoopla was to welcome back former Barca player, Luis Figo, who had shocked Blaugrana fans when he made a world record transfer to Real Madrid in 2000. It was Figo’s second match against Barca at the Camp Nou and 2 years after his transfer but fans, media, and even the players were not ready to welcome Figo in the white of Real.
Figo was the first marquee signing after Florentino Perez’ was elected Real Madrid president and started to build his Galactico team.
Real Madrid 0 – 3 Barcelona (November 19, 2005)
Ronaldinho Standing Ovation
Ronaldinho was well on his way to the Ballon d’Or title but this displayed sealed the award for the Brazilian. Ronaldinho made the Real Madrid defense disappear as he scored the 2nd and 3rd goals in the 3-0 win. After his second goal the fans at the Santiago Bernabeu gave Ronaldinho a standing ovation.
A decade later he shared what the moment meant to him telling FourFourTwo, “I am very proud. When it happened I barely noticed what was happening. I just scored and celebrated. As far as I know, only Maradona got that, too, in Madrid. I was twice as happy to know my hero in football was the last to have that honour at the Bernabeu.”
Barcelona 3 – 3 Real Madrid (March 10, 2007)
Lionel Messi’s First El Clasico Hat-Trick
Lionel Messi is no doubt on of the best players to ever play in El Clasico and is one of only 2 players (along with Real Madrid’s Ferenc Puskas) to score 2 hat tricks in El Clasico. The then 19-year-old was a thorn in the side of Real all-day with goals in the 10th and 27th minute before stealing a point for the 10-man Barca with the equalizer in the 88th minute. Messi’s other El Clasico hat trick came in a 4-3 Barcelona win on March 23, 2014.
Real Madrid 4 – 1 Barcelona (May 7, 2008)
The Last Honor Guard
The Pasillo (Honor Guard) is a soccer tradition where the players of a team applaud the league winners as they take the pitch. This last happened at an El Clasico in 2008 with Barcelona players paying tribute to the league winners. It was not a happy moment for the Barca players. Real Madrid showed why they were league champions running away with the 4-1 win. Real was paced by Raul, Arjen Robben, Gonzalo Higuain, and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Real Madrid 2 – 6 Barcelona (May 2, 2009)
Barcelona Make a Statement
Barcelona made a statement handing Real Madrid their worst home defeat with the 2-6 final scoreline. It marked the first time an away side hit 6 in El Clasico. Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry both knocked in a brace. The match was just one shining moment in what is arguably the best season ever for any soccer team. Barcelona won every competition (La Liga, Cope del Rey, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club Word Cup) they entered.
Real Madrid 0 – 2 Barcelona (April 27, 2011)
Champions League Redemption
After losing to Real Madrid in the 2002 Champions League semifinal, Barcelona got redemption 9 years later. The first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu was the critical match with Lionel Messi scoring both goals on the way to an insurmountable lead ahead of the 2nd leg. Messi capped off the game with one of his best goals in El Clasico weaving through the Real defense from midfield before slotting home from 6 yards out.
Real Madrid 3 – 4 Barcelona (March 23, 2014)
Messi takes goalscoring record
The 2 La Liga heavyweights lined up believing that the winner was headed for another title but the script did not play out that way. The match went back-and-forth but the difference was Messi and his hat trick. The tallies made him the all-time leading goalscorer in the El Clasico. The league title, however, went to Real’s crosstown rival, Atletico Madrid.
Real Madrid 2 – 1 – Barcelona (April 16, 2014)
Gareth Bale Has Arrived
Gareth Bale highlighted why Real made him a world record signing when he put a ball past Barca’s Marc Bartra while making his run yards outside the touchline to outpace the defender and knock the ball through Jose Pinto’s legs to take the Cope del Rey title.
What is your favorite El Clasico moment? Leave your comments below.