Two peas in a pod can be Twilight-style soul mates forever and ever and ever. But if the bed they are sleeping in is not big enough, then there is still going to be trouble, no matter how lovey-dovey they may be.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are in the mortal enemies, drunken cat-fight-outside-a-nightclub bracket, and are currently spending their football lives lumped together in a bed built for a toddler, so it is no wonder that an already fractious rivalry has recently been at its most intense.
The relationship between the two clubs has been trundling along for decades now, but mainly consisted of familiar Clasico fair—conspiracies, politics, animosity, mudslinging and childish name-calling. And more politics. But over the past four seasons, the competition between the two clubs has increased exponentially in intensity. To such an extent, in fact, that viewers tune in to Clasicos not for the football, but to see if Victor Valdes and Pepe are going to tear each other to pieces.
2009 saw the return of Florentino Perez as Real Madrid president with some big money to spend to take down a Barcelona side that was at the peak of its powers. Rarely had the two clubs been in such top form at the same time. Just as importantly, perhaps, never before had normally traditional rivals like Valencia been off the pace to such an extent.
Previous campaigns before that sea change saw Barca falling into a slump in the final days of Frank Rijkaard’s tenure at the Camp Nou, and Real Madrid having a Galactico meltdown by seemingly changing coach every few days and signing Thomas Gravesen. At the same time as one side of the Clasico coin was having a tough time, there was always a third power to keep the rivalry in check.
Sevilla, Villarreal, Valencia and Real Sociedad have all taken on the mantle of standing between the two punch-swinging pugilists over the past decade. True competition away from Spain’s two big clubs simply does not exist now, leaving the hunting ground in La Liga increasingly restricted.
Of course, Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Madrid threw a fair bit of petrol onto a previously smoldering fire. When the Portuguese coach took over in 2010, the mantra from the manager was for Real Madrid to challenge in every competition the club was in. This included the Copa del Rey, a tournament that the Bernabeu club had not won since 1993, but did so again in 2011, beating Barcelona in the final.
Barca were only in Mestalla facing Madrid that night because the Catalan club also decided that the cup was suddenly important, simply because their opponents did. Before a Copa victory in 2009, the Camp Nou side had not lifted the trophy for 11 years.
The Clasico rivalry under Mourinho had moved up several notches with the mischievous manager inspiring his Madrid team to try to bring down Barcelona at every opportunity, and by any means necessary.
There were an awful lot of chances to do this with the two sides thrown together in La Liga, the Copa del Rey, Champions League and Spanish Super Cup in what felt in Spain like 25 Clasicos a season. The constant pairing of the team teams was a true test of the notion of familiarity breeding contempt.
For the first time perhaps though, the footballers on the field began to feel the animosity between the two sides as much as the supporters. The games became violent, mean-spirited and at times threatened the cohesion of the Spanish national sides.
Xavi Hernandez and Iker Casillas had quite the job in patching Vicente Del Bosque’s squad back together, much to the annoyance of Mourinho, who wanted to keep his Real Madrid team snarling and slobbering. Of course, the Spanish sports newspapers living in both club camps egged everything along too. The more the tension between the two teams, was cranked up, the greater the sales.
However, when Pep Guardiola had clearly had enough and left to spend a year in New York, it felt like the tensions had reached a peak. Despite poking Tito Vilanova in the eye, Mourinho could not get a decent verbal scrap going with the incoming Barcelona coach.
There is even less chance of this rivalry reaching the same level now, with two newcomers to La Liga on the benches of both clubs. While Guardiola and Mourinho were competitors for the same job at the Camp Nou and former colleagues, it is doubtful that Tata Martino and Carlo Ancelotti have ever met, never mind cooked up a relationship of animosity.
Although the rivalry between the two teams is still monumental of course, both sides are looking less at each other this season, but to the Bundesliga, where the biggest Champions League threats are likely to lie. But if everything goes badly in foreign lands, then the two teams will surely turn their attentions on each other, once again, for another round of duvet-stealing in this most rancorous of relationships.