By Aayan Ghimire – LA Soccer Press /
Gone are the days when the whole world stopped for El Clasico. In the last four years La Liga superstars have either left or lost form: 2017 Neymar gone, 2018 Cristiano Ronaldo gone, 2019 Bale lost form and now in 2021 Real Madrid lost Sergio Ramos and Barcelona have lost Lionel Messi. So, let’s look back at what made El Clasico rivalries very special and is there any way to enjoy them like old times.
Guardiola vs. Mourinho
When Pep took over Barca’s first team and before Mourinho arrived in Spain, El Clasico usually went in favor of Barcelona. 2009 Barcelona won a treble with a fresh, young team. La Masia graduates like Messi, Carlos Puyol, Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta were the heartbeat of the Barcelona side that conquered the world and they looked like doing that for years to come. Then came the self-proclaimed special one to halt Pep Guardiola’s passing machine. Jose Mourinho won a treble himself with his Inter Milan squad in 2010, defeating Guardiola’s tiki taka. As a result, Real Madrid knew Mourinho was the man to end Barcelona’s Spanish dominance. He did not achieve it in his first season, but Mourinho broke Real Madrid’s round of 16 Champions League curse and won them the Copa Del Rey in his first season. He eventually won Real Madrid La Liga in the 2011/12 season, which turned out to be Guardiola’s last season at Barcelona.
Ronaldo vs. Messi
The rivalry that has been around for more than a decade was at its peak when both stars were in Spain. After Ronaldo’s big money move to Real Madrid in 2009, El Clasico became more than a derby. It was a clash of cultures, clash between the two biggest cities in Spain, clash between the two best teams in the world, clash of the best players that would dominate the sport for more than a decade. The two have served up some memorable matches for the Spanish giants but to this date, the most interesting one was in October 2012, which ended in a 2-2 draw, with both Messi and Ronaldo scoring twice. No matter the date and time, El Clasico was always a treat, served up some of the best matches and the rivalry of Messi and Ronaldo made it better than all derbies.
BBC vs. MSN
Ronaldo vs Messi then became a battle within a battle. When Real Madrid announced Bale’s signing, the famous BBC (Benzema, Bale, Cristiano) trio was born, and Bale was influential in the team winning la decima (tenth Champions League for Madrid) at the time in 2014. Barcelona needed to respond and with Neymar and Messi already there, the team needed to form a trio of their own. Barcelona noticed Suarez wanted out from Liverpool and snapped at the chance to sign him. Even though Suarez was banned for the first four months of the 2014/15 season, the first time the MSN (Messi, Suarez, Neymar) trio stepped foot in Barcelona colors, fear was struck into all teams. The trio looked unstoppable and led FC Barcelona to the treble in 2015. Real Madrid then responded by winning the next three Champions Leagues, which famously became known as their threepeat. The BBC vs MSN rivalry made the clasicos more entertaining than just a Ronaldo vs Messi battle, and certainly lived up to its expectations.
The fall: Neymar and Ronaldo departures
It seemed nothing could go wrong for both teams after the two trio’s were at the peak of their powers. Neymar wanted to be the main man and out of Messi’s shadow, and when PSG decided to pay 222 million for his services, the deal was completed. Barcelona spent that money poorly on Coutinho and Dembele and have been in a terrible financial situation. To make matters worse, Coronavirus hit and Barcelona’s financial crisis deepened even further. On the other side of the Clasico divide, Real Madrid lost Ronaldo to Juventus a year after Neymar left. His replacements have struggled to find form and have not really delivered consistently. Few years later, Suarez was pushed out of Barcelona, joined Atletico Madrid and won them the title in 2021, Ramos moved to PSG and was soon followed by Messi after Barcelona couldn’t afford his wages.
How can La Liga be great again?
Barcelona and Real Madrid still have quality players in their teams, but with superstars leaving season after season, La Liga will have to get new stars and make a team around them. Ronaldo vs Messi was the catalyst of entertaining clasico’s for the past few years. Mbappe and Haaland have been dubbed as the heirs to the throne and if the el clasico rivalry is to be as exciting as the Ronaldo and Messi era, La Liga needs to get the best players. If Barcelona vs Real Madrid had a battle between Mbappe and Haaland, then it will surely be on the right track.
Ghimire holds a BS in Sports Management and currently resides in New York. He writes about European football for L.A. Soccer Press.