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Politics, Icons, and a Pig’s Head

Le Classique. Der Klassiker. Every country has its unique version, but there is only one true El Clásico. FC Barcelona versus Real Madrid. On Sunday, March 1st, the two biggest heavyweights in football meet on the pitch once more, and this time, a league title is at stake. But how did these two giants become such bitter rivals?

Different Ideologies

Real Madrid is often portrayed as the club of the establishment, a team loved by the powers that be. Barcelona, meanwhile, has always been the shining light of the Catalans and the separatist movement.

The accusations that Los Blancos are a puppet of the government began in the wake of Spain’s king bestowing the name Real upon Madrid FC in 1920. Since then, Real Madrid’s history has been entwined with Spanish leadership. They were dictator Franco’s team of choice, and even today, Spanish royalty are vocal supporters of the club.

On the other side, you have FC Barcelona. A club rooted in its community and one that has embraced an independent identity. The Blaugrana and its supporters have been the enemy of the state for a century and that won’t change as long as the fight for Catalan independence rages on.

Bitter Adversaries

Beyond the clear ideological tension, there is, of course, the rivalry on the pitch. Inevitably, Real Madrid’s links to the establishment have elicited allegations of match-fixing. Such as, in 1943, when Barça ran out 3-0 victors in the first leg of the Copa del Generalísimo final, only to lose 11-1 in the second leg. Blaugrana players later claimed that Franco’s military threatened them before the match.

That was just one of the dozens of iconic moments this match-up has produced over the years. Here are our top three favorite El Clásico moments:

The Cruyff Effect

Johan Cruyff joined Barcelona in 1973 and he made an instant impact, helping Barça step out of Real’s shadow by putting an end to Los Blancos’ LaLiga domination. The Dutchman scored in his first Clásico at the Santiago Bernabeu in a 5-0 beatdown, as Barça went on to win their first league title in 14 years.

Figo and the Piggy

It is unheard of for a player to transfer from Barcelona to Real Madrid, yet that is exactly what Luís Figo did in 2000 when Real acquired the Portuguese winger for a world-record fee. When the “traitor” returned to the Camp Nou as a Madrid player he was greeted with bottles and flares and even had a pig’s head thrown at him

The arrival of Figo in Madrid would be the catalyst for a new era under the stewardship of their recently appointed president, Florentino Pérez. Within three years of Figo’s signing, Real Madrid added Zidane, Ronaldo, and Beckham. This super team, arguably the best to ever grace a football field, would earn the moniker Los Galácticos for their out-of-this-world talent.

Samba Magic at the Bernabeu

On November 19th, 2005, Barcelona legend Ronaldinho gave us a performance for the ages. Around the hour mark, he received the ball on the left wing, put Sergio Ramos on his backside, dribbled past Ivan Helguera, and rifled the ball into the back of the net. Mere minutes later, he raced down the left side again and blasted the ball past Iker Casillas, who watched on in disbelief as the Real faithful gave the Brazilian a standing ovation.

On Sunday, the two go head-to-head once more. The game has huge title implications with Barça currently sitting two points above Real. It’s going to be a wild one!

Illustration by @inakivector.

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