Real Madrid – FIFA ‘Team of the Century’; 31 League titles; 9 European Cups; a couple of UEFA Cups and World Club Champions titles.
Also, bizarrely, it is a club that has in recent years nurtured the custom of sacking successful managers. Jupp Heynckes went four weeks after winning a Champions League title, Fabio Capello and Bernd Schuster won the league title before one was basically sacked for being too defensive and the other for being too reckless. The prize, though, for what it’s worth, goes to Vicente Del Bosque, current manager of the national squad, who was dismissed the day after winning the league in a room at the hotel in which his players were having their celebratory dinner!
Real Madrid originated in 1897 when a number of students and lecturers at the Institucíon Libre de Enseñanza began playing friendly matches on Sunday mornings. From these humble beginnings, Madrid Football Club emerged in 1902 – gaining its royal patronage and club name in 1920 from King Alfonso XIII. The club became founder members of the Spanish League in 1929 – when Barca won the inaugural title and El Clásico, as the fixture between the two clubs is known in Spain – began in earnest.
From the beginning, the rivalry was intense but it developed significantly during the years after the Civil War. There are, of course, many stories of the way Franco’s government promoted the interests of Real Madrid in order to develop his, and Spain’s, international prestige. Also, the manner in which Barcelona attempted to maintain a Catalan identity at a time when the language and flag were banned is well recounted. Barça became ‘More than a Club’ and the phrase Así gana el Madrid – that’s how Madrid win – became part of Spanish sporting lore.
There are two of these stories, however, that perhaps shed most light on the situation in those difficult times.
In 1942, Barcelona had won the Spanish Cup – now known as the Cope del Rey but then renamed as the Copa del Generalísimo. The following season they were pitted against Real in a two-legged semi-final and won the first match convincingly, by three goals to nil, despite having their star player, Escolá, stretchered off. The second leg, though, was rather a different matter – finishing an astonishing 11 – 1 to Madrid. Not only was the Head of State Security known to have visited the Barça dressing room before the match to tell some of the players that their right to remain in Spain was being reviewed, but also the sending off of a player in the first few minutes made sure that the rest of the team got the right message!
The other classic example of the manner in which Barcelona feel they suffered during the Franco years concerns perhaps the most famous player ever to wear a Real Madrid shirt – Alfredo di Stéfano, who remains an iconic figure in the Madrid hierarchy even today. In 1953, the Argentinian centre forward, described by Bobby Charlton as the most intelligent player he had seen, was signed by Barcelona from his Columbian club, Millonarios. After di Stéfano had appeared in a couple of friendly matches, and after an involved and underhand series of ‘negotiations’, the Spanish F.A. declared that the transfer was invalid and the player was triumphantly unveiled by Madrid. Two weeks later, he made his debut in a 5 – 0 victory over Barcelona in the Bernabéu – scoring four goals and starting his journey towards legendary status.
Even the transfer of Luis Figo in 2000 pales into insignificance compared to the machinations involved in the di Stéfano move.
With such a fierce, and continuing, rivalry between these two giant clubs, this puts the events of Barcelona’s 3-0 away victory in 2000 into an even more dramatic perspective; that was the night that the Madrid supporters rose to their feet and applauded Ronaldinho after perhaps his best performance in the club’s colours.