Saturday’s match between archrival, global football brands, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, reached a milestone from which the clubs’ futures, and thus their rivalries, will be forged for years to come. That landmark 4-0 home defeat of Real Madrid was as much a millstone for Merengue fans worldwide as it was sweet forecaster for Cules globally.
At this point in competitive play their all-time, head-to-head match-ups have resulted in 92 Real wins to 90 Barca wins, with 48 ties. During the current era, the 2004-onward Lionel Messi era, the results have been more favorable to Barcelona who has 17 wins, 11 losses and 4 wins. That trend may intensify before it levels out.
In 1953 Real Madrid “won” the Alfredo di Stefano sweepstakes which ushered in an era of unprecedented and as yet unmatched club supremacy. In a career that spanned eleven seasons, di Stefano’s club won eight La Liga titles (four times more than Real had won before he joined them), and five Champions League-equivalent trophies. The Argentine superstar was the league’s top scorer (Pichichi Trophy) five times. During that span, results of the Clasico rivalry were largely favorable to Real who had 15 wins, 6 losses and 1 draw. The upper hand that Real enjoys in the overall Clasico tally sheet can be traced directly back to winning that player sweepstakes.
In 2001, Lionel Messi joined Barcelona from Newell’s Old Boys, in Rosario, Argentina. But Messi is by and large a La Masia product, scouted by Barcelona in Argentina, brought to Spain at an early age, and developed at the club for years before he was deemed ripe enough to present to the world in 2004. His eleven years at the Catalan club have been magical and he is already one of the sport’s all-time greats. His purchase is perhaps the biggest find in world football history. But Barca did not rest on its laurels while Real did not learn any lessons.
The Real youth academy equivalent, La Fabrica, has produced homegrown, world-class talents such as Raul and Iker Casillas, but no Messi-equivalent. Madrid’s club leadership has not been as aggressive or successful in pursuing talent abroad as has Barcelona’s. That difference is now looming large despite the fact that both clubs recruit extensively on a global scale. The issue is that Barca learned its painful lesson sixty years ago and vowed not to let that lesson be repeated.
In 2013, FC Barcelona “won” the Neymar da Silva Santos, Jr. sweepstakes. The then 21-year-old Brazilian prodigy had already set his native country’s pitches afire, and in four years had delivered four domestic trophies and two continental ones, including one Copa Libertadores (South America’s Champions League equivalent), while scoring 54 goals in 103 total appearances. Most now tout him as the rightful Ballon d’Or heir, the third best player on the planet (behind Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) and currently the best performing.
Saturday we witnessed a Barca demolition of Real that included the 28-year old Messi as a guest traveler. The defeat was largely delivered via the performance of 23-year-old Neymar, albeit with ample help from 28-year-old Luis Suarez, and with an outsized assist from Rafa Benitez. Yet we are at but a year or two away from a crossroads between best player in the world eras and Barca is poised to ride the next one all the way, again.
While Real’s 30-year old Ronaldo continues unable to find a complete and concurrent supporting cast—club leadership, team manager, and playmates—at Barcelona, the successful Messi era still has a few years to go before it concludes, and the Neymar era is just about to emerge. Saturday certified that Barca is primed to bask in success for years to come.
Simultaneously, Real Madrid fans witnessed a small and large change that together seemed as fraught with portent as that first cosmic dust must have seemed to some doomed dinosaur just before that meteor landed at Chicxulub. Those Bernabeu fans perhaps heard the popped balloon of Benitez’s last Clasico at the helm, but they surely witnessed the catastrophic explosion that was that post-match parade of unhappy faces that included Ronaldo’s, Gareth Bale’s, Sergio Ramos’, Isco’s, Marcelo’s, and James Rodriguez’s—to which you can add a bewildered look on Karim Benzema’s face.
The Madrid club, with plenty of key personnel sought at opponent’s camps near and far, needs to value their roster and shore up how they cater to players who might now see themselves happier elsewhere. But mostly Real Madrid needs another big-name miscalculation at manager as much as they need a near-empty La Fabrica cupboard and an extended term with Florentino Perez as president. If only a couple of those problems are tackled, Benitez’s enabling role in yesterday’s Clasico will be repeated by Real at countless levels and in countless ways for years to come.
That White debacle we saw at the Bernabeu yesterday was tailor made at Ciudad Real Madrid, but the final asphyxiating fit will have been designed by Catalans at Carrer d’Arístides Maillol, and we all glimpsed that milestone millstone fitting at yesterday’s Clasico.