Monday, November 29, 2010

Mes Que un Derby

Well, here it is:  El Clásico-- Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.  Tonight, Monday November 29, 2010.  Surely in the history of Association Football, there is no other match anywhere that surpasses the intensity of this annual rivalry.  (OK: Liverpool vs. Manchester United, maybe).  But just as Barcelona's club nickname is "Mes Que un Club" (More than a Club), so too can El Clásico be understood as More Than a Derby.  How so?  Let us count the ways...

1. Madrid and Barcelona are the two largest cities in Spain.  There is hence a regional rivalry between these two teams.

2.  Between them, Madrid and Barcelona have amassed no less than 141 football trophies (73 for Real Madrid and 68 for Barcelona).  The next closest team-trophy-total is Atletico Bilbao with 32.  No one else in Spanish soccer even comes close.  There is hence a professional rivalry between these two teams.

3.  From its inception, FC Barcelona has always been associated with Catalan nationalism, which makes it a favorite team of everyone in Spain who opposes Spanish hegemony.  Conversely, Real Madrid is the go-to side of most Castilian's and those who support the central government generally, and hence a vehicle for the expression of Spanish nationalism.    There is hence a national rivalry between the supporters of these two teams

4.  From its inception, FC Barcelona has also always been a people's team, inasmuch as the team's supporters have always generally been working people with socialist sympathies, who once supported the old Republic before the the coming of Francisco Franco and the Spanish Civil War.  Conversely, Real Madrid--with the word 'Royal' (Real) in its name-- has been the team supported by Spanish Monarchists and Francophiles generally.  There is hence a political rivalry between the supporters of these two teams.  Author Phil Ball, the author of Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football, calls the El Clásico "a re-enactment of the Spanish Civil War". 

5.  This year's edition of El Clásico features virtually all of the starts of the 2010 World Cup Champion Spanish National Team.  These guys all know each other quite well, so there is hence a personal rivalry between the players of these two teams.

6.  Finally:  Speaking of personal rivalries, the two stars of the match are (of course) Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, arguably the two greatest players in the game today.

The two largest cities... the two teams with the most trophies... Catalan nationalism vs. Spanish nationalism... The Socialists vs. the Monarchists... the Republicans vs. the Francoists... two teams full of World Cup veterans and former teamates... and oh yeah, Ronaldo vs. Messi on top of everything else.

How big is El Clásico?  According to Wikipedia, a 2007 survey by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas determined that Real Madrid was the team with the largest following in Spain. Thirty-two percent of the Spanish population supported Real Madrid, while twenty-five percent supported Barcelona. (In third place came Valencia CF, who were supported by five percent).  Barcelona in turn is more popular in Europe than Madrid. According to a survey made by the German research agency Sport+Markt in 2010, Barcelona has approximately 57,8 million fans around Europe, while Real Madrid has 31,3 million fans.

You can bet that many millions of people worldwide will be tuning in to the match later today.

With so much nuance going on in the background of this 'simple' sporting event, its no wonder the Spanish call this "The Classic."  This is clearly no ordinary sporting event.

Yeah, this is probably the biggest regular sports rivalry in the world.  Don't miss it.