El Clásico is a game above any other game in Spain and in the football world. Barcelona and Real Madrid have been going at it since 1929; every year, there are new story lines.
The two best teams in La Liga and arguably the two best teams in the world bring out so many emotions on and off the pitch. While the players will take the pitch this Saturday to play for the crest that is on their shirt, it is that crest that brings out so many emotions for us, the fans.
For fans, the keyword for El Clásico is “versus”.
Throughout the years, it has always been “this person” versus “that person” in addition to the teams against each other. Now more than ever and due to the high-profile names, versus becomes so much more significant. This makes it so much more passionate for us fans.
José Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola, Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo, and so on.
What El Clásico means to fans is taking a firm stand by your team more than ever. Fans know there is no middle ground. You can’t like Real Madrid and kind of like how Barcelona plays and vice versa. You can respect it but by no means like it.
El Clásico brings the best and worst in fans. Debates will begin as well as arguments. This is the week where YouTube videos of past Clásicos will be most viewed, and trash talking on the comments section will be posted.
I’m sure some fans have their jerseys on right now (please do so if you don't have your jersey on). There’s something about putting on your team’s shirt that changes all fans.
These games make us fans remember some of the great players of the past: Zidane, Cruyff, Di Stefano, Maradona, Juanito, Rivaldo, Raúl and Ronaldinho just to name a few. Fans remember some of their great performances and the emotions that were brought out of us watching those players in El Clásico. Fans now look forward to what Messi and Ronaldo can give them.
El Clásico has a world-wide appeal that no other rivalry can offer fans. Real and Barça are two of the three most popular clubs in the world (the other being Manchester United). Millions of fans around the world make El Clásico a global matchup. From Turin to Tokyo, from San Francisco to Sydney, you will find Madridistas and Culés.
The closest rivalry in the US that may compare to Real Madrid v. Barcelona is probably the Yankees v. the Red Sox. The Yankees, like Real Madrid, have always had the money, the looks, and the titles. Not to mention the sleek white jerseys. The Yankees and their fans have always associated themselves with class just like Real Madrid.
In some ways, Barcelona is the Red Sox. Always in the shadow of the bigger team. The second most popular team of the two. A blue-collar team that may not have the charm of their closest rival but has an equally loyal fan base.
But this is where the comparisons must stop because Yankees v. Red Sox hasn’t really been a rivalry. To me, a rivalry requires that both teams are competitive. The Yankees have been dominating for most of the “rivalry”. El Clásico always has and always will be close.
The key factor that fans of both teams may not admit is the element of fear that comes with a Clásico game. Fear of the realization that your team is not as good as the other team. Fear of that first goal. Fear that your team will not step up. Fear of the ridicule you will receive by the fans of the other team. Fear that your team could let you down and the fear that your team will lose.
For us fans, the thought of a loss is tough to swallow, let alone accept.
“The threat is stronger than the execution” is a term that has been used in chess. Some interpret this as the idea that the threat of getting beat with strategic moves is at times a greater tactic and much more of an impact than the actual move itself. This is because the threat changes your opponent’s tactics and psyche.
This saying holds true in El Clásico. From the coaches’ decisions to how the players play, the threat of a goal and the threat of getting beat is at times stronger than the play or goal itself. If you’re a Culé, you worry about the Madrid counterattack. If you’re a Madridista, you worry about Barça’s tiki-taka ball possession play.
The idea of seeing your team lose is at times a greater source of stress to fans’ psyche than the actual loss itself.
This is what makes Clásicos so great: it’s a high-stakes chess match that has everyone—including fans—tense, unlike any other game in the year.
For most Real Madrid or Barcelona fans, the game means bragging rights and the continued debate of who is the best; for the loser, it means the beginning of counting down the days until the next Clásico for a shot to get even.
But for those fans that are from Spain or have Spanish background, you know that El Clásico means more than any of the things previously mentioned. El Clásico is political, personal and it is what keeps Spain divided.
Real Madrid has always been seen as a symbol of Spanish pride and nationalism. Most Madridistas in Spain are Castilians who share relatively conservative political and social views. Most Real Madrid fans in Spain are loyal to the monarchy and continue to value monarchical traditions.
Many Madrid fans in Spain are extremely arrogant, do not consider other viewpoints and feel entitled to win everything. With all their titles, who can blame them, right? Growing up, I was taught that Los Blancos have always been considered “ el equipo favorito de la monarquía” (the monarchy's favorite team). Real is the most popular club in Spain and has always represented the monarchy of España.
This is exactly why Culés dislike Madrid.
Culés are very much opposite in political and social viewpoints. Most Catalans will never acknowledge that the city of Barcelona and all of the land that “was” Catalonia is Spain. Catalans prefer democracy to any kind of monarchical rule. They have more liberal political and social views; they see Catalonia as an unrecognized country.
Spain conquered Catalonia in the 18th century and, for centuries, Catalans have been discriminated against socially and politically. Catalans feel the monarchy has always and will always discriminate against them. They believe the monarchy will do everything to hold the Catalan people down.
Let’s bring football back into the picture.
Real Madrid is obviously not at fault for the monarchy’s decisions and the struggles of the Catalan people. But Real Madrid has always been and will always be the symbol of Spanish nationalism, thus they are the target of Catalan dislike.
Oh yeah, the fact the Real wins a lot also makes Culés mad too.
When these two teams that represent differing social and political viewpoints collide, Spain is divided and El Clásico becomes more than a derby.
Catalans tend to take the derby a bit more to heart than Madrid fans. I can tell you this is true because many Catalans continue to see themselves as being in a struggle with Spain and the monarchy. Their pride is on the line when the blaugrana play Los Blancos.
In fairness, Madrid fans in Spain take losses better than the Culés. As much as Madrid fans trash talk and will always try to minimalise Barcelona, I truly do believe they respect Barça.
However, the scandalous Madrid media is a completely other story.
Many Catalans take losses too seriously and too personally. They can’t help it because El Clásico is one of the few ways Catalans are able to fight and try to claim victory against the Spanish monarchy. Culés respect Real Madrid and what they have accomplished in their club’s history.
On Saturday, we are going to be treated to another chapter in El Clásico history. For all the Real Madrid and Barcelona fans across the world, it’s a matter of love and loyalty. For Spaniards and Catalans who are fans of the teams, this is more than a game.
It may not be a close game, it may not be an exciting game and it may not live up to all the hype. One thing I can guarantee you: it’s going to be an emotional game for us fans. What kind of emotions that you will feel depends on what your team does on the pitch.
Bring on El Clásico!