How the 2000s saved El Clasico – and made Barcelona vs Actual Madrid greater than ever earlier than
This function first appeared within the Summer season 2020 concern of FourFourTwo journal.
Duality was a cornerstone of late-Victorian literature’s most enduring characters.
The identical but totally different, every was inexorably outlined by, and drawn to, the opposite. There was distrust, hatred, but additionally a fascination with their reverse. Holmes vs Moriarty; Jekyll vs Hyde; Dracula vs Van Helsing; Dorian Grey vs his portrait – the extra that these conflicted souls understood about their enemy, the extra they discovered about themselves.
Actual Madrid and Barcelona had been at all times destined to hate each other. They had been born only a few years after these duality tales, however the groups of the institution and of militant separatists might by no means be buddies – not with such philosophical, political and geographical variations, amid a brutal Spanish Civil Warfare and right-wing dictatorship from 1936 to 1975. But that shared antipathy tied them collectively.
Going into the 2000s, El Clasico had already been Spain’s greatest soccer match for over half a century. By the last decade’s finish, nevertheless, by which they shared seven La Liga titles and 4 European Cups, it had exploded into the largest recreation on the planet. Spanish soccer’s behemoths had made their league the world’s hottest competitors and turned themselves into probably the most glamorous locations for high expertise. So: why the sudden curiosity?
Easy. On July 24, 2000, Luis Figo left Barça and joined Actual Madrid. Nothing can be the identical once more.
Simply ask that pig.
“Of the ten greatest gamers on the planet, we have got 5”
In 1998, Actual Madrid had awoken from their slumber – however one thing inside gnawed away. The membership which had outlined itself by European Cup glory, ever since profitable the competitors’s first 5 tournaments within the late Fifties, had lastly ended a 32-year watch for la septima – the seventh – however Barcelona had been simply… sexier.
Through the 1999/00 marketing campaign, Los Blancos had been effectively positioned within the Champions League, positive, however that they had completed 11 factors behind Barcelona within the earlier La Liga season and entered the brand new millennium in mid-table. Madridismo couldn’t take it.
Florentino Perez determined to run for the workplace of Actual Madrid president. A brief, puffy-faced civil engineer, he was the president of ACS: Spain’s third-largest building firm, with a €4 billion turnover. What Perez lacked in presence, he greater than made up for in concepts or enchufes – the political and monetary connections that greased wheels. He counted Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister, as each a colleague and a buddy.
By the point Perez submitted his candidacy on June 30, it could be a one-on-one race between the upstart and Lorenzo Sanz, who had simply delivered two European Cups in three seasons. Nobody gave the engineer a prayer.
But Perez had his finger on the heartbeat of madridismo. How? As a result of he requested them. Whereas getting ready his bid, Perez commissioned a questionnaire which requested the membership’s followers to call the participant they needed Actual Madrid to purchase above all others.
Luis Figo was the overwhelming winner. The winger would later elevate that yr’s Ballon d’Or, but Barcelona had been enjoying hardball over a brand new contract and he was irritated by the deadlock. The discharge clause stood at £38m: a possible world-record charge, however inexpensive. Simply.
Perez supplied a non-returnable £1.6m to Figo’s agent, Jose Veiga, for his shopper to signal a doc saying that he would be part of Actual Madrid if Perez gained the election. Simple cash, they thought – in spite of everything, Perez had completely no likelihood of profitable.
Perez introduced his mini-deal on July 6, the day his presidential rival gave away his daughter to Actual Madrid’s full-back Michel Salgado. “Perhaps he’ll announce he’s signed Claudia Schiffer subsequent,” sneered a blasé Sanz on the marriage ceremony.
Figo denied every part – each in public and privately, to team-mates Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique. Ten days later, Perez triumphed by a landslide. To cancel the deal, incoming Barcelona president Joan Gaspart must pay Actual Madrid a £19m penalty clause, successfully to maintain his personal participant. A livid Gaspart refused; Figo himself felt let down by the membership. “They thought I used to be bluffing,” he instructed FourFourTwo later. “Perhaps it wasn’t very, very clear, as a result of it didn’t rely solely on me.”
On July 24, a barely smiling Figo was unveiled on the Bernabeu. A membership insider says Gaspart “went into shock… he couldn’t suppose rationally. He was destroyed by Madrid.”
Consideration turned to October’s first Clasico of the season, in Barcelona. Stirred by a febrile Catalan press, the Camp Nou ambiance was totally different: visceral, unapologetic hatred. There have been offended banners all over the place. ‘Mercenary’. ‘Judas’. ‘Scum’. 1000’s of faux financial institution notes emblazoned with Figo’s face had been printed and thrown onto the pitch. He was visibly shocked and refused to take corners, although that didn’t cease the maelstrom of cash, lighters, whisky bottles and golf balls being chucked his approach.
Unsurprisingly, Figo performed dreadfully. With a pumped-up Carles Puyol his shadow for 90 minutes, Actual Madrid misplaced 2-0.
“Bodily and mentally, it’s unattainable to disregard 75,000 individuals shouting towards you,” Figo later instructed FFT. “I used to be anxious that some madman would possibly lose his head.”
Two years later, a pig did. Water below the bridge? No likelihood. A cochinillo – a roasted suckling pig’s head – thrown onto the Camp Nou turf grew to become El Clasico’s defining picture. The match – a 0-0 draw – was suspended for 16 minutes, although Barça escaped sanction, their administrators accusing Madrid photographers of a setup: “We don’t even eat it in Catalonia.” The world was captivated.
Perez had his famous person, however most of all, he had his response – and that was priceless.
Throw again to when Luis Figo returned to the Nou Camp with Actual Madrid. They actually threw a pig’s head at him. pic.twitter.com/EOIXflMWetApril 11, 2017
The notoriety that the Figo switch gave to Perez was a drug he couldn’t give up. There was, nevertheless, a serious stumbling block: the membership had been just about bankrupt and £185m in debt.
“Actual Madrid,” stated Perez, three months after being elected, “is critically unwell.”
The remedy was ingenious and intrinsically Perez. He bought La Ciudad Deportiva – the membership’s coaching floor on the northern tip of town centre, an space of prime actual property – to the Madrid native authority for £298m, who raised the money primarily by way of taxes paid by each madrileno, Atletico and Rayo Vallecano followers included. Perez’s enchufes swept every part by way of with velocity. For many, it could take two or three years of Spanish pink tape. Perez did the deal in 24 hours.
To rebuild the coaching floor, Perez purchased land by Barajas airport for a fraction of what he’d acquired. He had worn out Actual Madrid’s money owed at a stroke. Crucially, he had cash left over. So, in the summertime of 2001 he broke the world switch file once more to signal Zinedine Zidane for £46m. The next yr he purchased the Brazilian Ronaldo. Actual Madrid already had Figo, Raul and Roberto Carlos. “Of the ten greatest gamers on the planet,” stated membership captain Fernando Hierro, “we’ve obtained 5.” He wasn’t exaggerating. David Beckham arrived in 2003.
“Nothing is extra worthwhile than recruiting a famous person,” stated Perez, citing Ronaldo as the one participant who might rating 25 targets a season and “pay for himself”.
In 1999/00, not one Bernabeu fixture had bought out. In 2000/01, 18 of 19 did. The season after that, all of them did. It’s arduous to overstate the impact Los Galacticos had on Spanish soccer.
Perez inspired his superstars to signal over their picture rights to the membership. “If one in every of our gamers does an advert for custard, he would possibly earn €120,000,” the membership president reasoned. “If he filmed the identical advert in a Actual Madrid shirt, he would make 10 instances that.”
It was this canny enterprise which saved the membership within the black. In asserting the workforce’s personal web site as its title sponsor for 2001/02, Perez declared that he wouldn’t “stain” Actual Madrid’s well-known white strip until it was for “a scandalous amount of cash”. Alerted to the potential for sponsoring the largest membership on the planet, cell phone firm Siemens duly supplied €12m per season.
In these early years, Vicente del Bosque’s Galacticos delivered on the pitch as a lot
as they did off it. “They may rating two targets – we’ll rating three,” Zidane instructed FFT in 2013. “It was enjoyable.”
Every Galactico got here to be outlined by their first marketing campaign on the membership. In 2000/01, Figo impressed Madrid to a dominant league title, and 2002/03 noticed Ronaldo end as La Liga’s high scorer and win – someway – the one top-flight title in his profession, to not point out being applauded off at Outdated Trafford following one in every of historical past’s most memorable hat-tricks.
The season that every one madridistas bear in mind most fondly, although, is Zidane’s 2001/02. Initially, the Frenchman struggled, however quickly he was hovering. His chic left-footed volley within the Champions League closing towards Bayer Leverkusen stays the very best aim ever scored in European soccer’s showpiece occasion (sorry, Gareth), and it cemented the dynasty.
This aim occurred 18 years in the past immediately – which, coincidentally, is identical size of time that Roberto Carlos cross hung within the air earlier than Zidane leathered itpic.twitter.com/g71Og1WSUdMight 15, 2020
“That was the factor I wanted at this membership – the trophy I didn’t have,” Zidane later instructed FFT. “That aim was good. Individuals say, ‘Effectively, he value so much however he gained the Champions League’.”
Beckham and the start of the tip
Paying for these targets was half the issue. In 2003, some 80 per cent of the membership’s price range was spent on wages. Perez needed that determine all the way down to 50 per cent, however the one solution to do it was to scrimp on gamers who didn’t fall into the Galactico bracket.
Through the summer season of 2003, McManaman, Fernando Morientes, Claude Makelele and captain Fernando Hierro had been all allowed to go away, the latter with no correct farewell after 14 years’ service, because of his open intransigence in the direction of Perez’s Galacticos coverage. None had been adequately changed. Neither was Del Bosque, unceremoniously dumped after profitable the La Liga title in 2002/03. 5 coaches in two and a half years adopted.
The Zidanes y Pavones technique of blending the celebs with youth-teamers – named after their French talisman and Francisco Pavon, a younger, club-trained central defender – was as a lot monetary necessity as philosophy to keep up a Spanish core. The standard merely wasn’t there, and requirements slipped.
Beckham got here to symbolise the final days of Rome. England’s captain was one in every of Europe’s greatest gamers, but it surely was Goldenballs’ reputation in rising markets that almost all enticed Perez. That the king of crossing was coming to play centrally, changing Makelele – the one Madrid midfielder who really defended – was proof. “Why purchase one other layer of gold paint on your Bentley,” Zidane requested on the time, “when you’re promoting the entire engine?”
It was nothing private, although. Beckham’s team-mates had been and are at all times fast to focus on his professionalism on the Bernabeu.
“It’s not his fault in any respect that they signed him with this purpose or that one,” Figo instructed FFT years later. “The fourth yr was once we began to divert a bit. We went around the globe, from Los Angeles to China… we began to interrupt the principles a little bit of what a soccer workforce is.” Corresponding to actor Kuno Becker sitting on the Madrid bench for scenes that would seem within the movie Aim II, for instance.
The 2003/04 season would show to be the start of the tip. Actual Madrid started effectively below their new coach, Carlos Queiroz, however by March a skinny squad was stretched to breaking level. When on-loan Morientes scored in each legs for Monaco to knock his dad or mum membership out of the Champions League, the irony was palpable. Scarred, Madrid slipped from first to fourth in La Liga throughout the marketing campaign’s closing weeks, and it could be seven years earlier than they subsequent gained a Champions League knockout tie.
“‘Galactico’ is only a identify,” Figo instructed FFT in 2013. “It was a nickname constructed to promote, and that’s it.”
Knives out in Barcelona
Barcelona had been a shambles ever since Figo’s shock exit, ending 4th, 4th and sixth. “There was a very dangerous dynamic,” Carles Puyol later defined to FFT. “We didn’t even compete. On the very least, that’s what your followers demand of you.”
Joan Laporta succeeded Gaspart as Barça’s new president in June 2003. An excellent-looking, compulsive, fortysomething lawyer, he might hardly have resembled Florentino Perez much less.
Picture was every part to Laporta, who was decided to re-establish Barcelona because the workforce of Catalonia. He had strategists, a press agent and even a documentary workforce following him, within the first professionally-run presidential marketing campaign in Spanish membership soccer historical past. And most significantly, he had a plan.
Whereas vice-presidents Ferran Soriano and Marc Ingla labored the numbers, Sandro Rosell – a former high-ranking Nike government in South America – supplied a dressing-room hyperlink to director of soccer Txiki Begiristain and up-and-coming head coach Frank Rijkaard. Regardless of that they’d promised to signal Beckham if elected. Second prize, utilizing Rosell’s Nike contacts: Ronaldinho.
In polar opposition to Beckham on the Bernabeu, the 23-year-old, buck-toothed Brazilian – “too ugly” for Actual Madrid, one in every of their administrators had stated a yr earlier – fitted completely with the brand new Barcelona regime.
His house debut towards Sevilla kicked off at 5 previous midnight on September 3, as La Liga refused to permit Barça to maneuver the fixture date regardless of an upcoming worldwide break. At 1.24am, Ronaldinho crashed an unstoppable 30-yard shot in off the bar.
🇧🇷 Ronaldinho: “Essentially the most memorable match was the primary one, It began at 0.01am… It was the primary and solely time that I performed at the moment. Nevertheless it was no drawback – that’s my favorite time of day…” pic.twitter.com/8yqV3XniGEJuly 19, 2019
There was just one drawback. Barcelona saved shedding. As 2003 turned to 2004, Barça, contemporary from a 5-1 humping at Malaga and first Clasico defeat at house in 20 years, fell 18 factors behind their everlasting rivals. The knives for Laporta sharpened– actually. Els Boixos Nois, an ultras group livid at being phased out of a family-friendly Camp Nou, plastered the partitions of Laporta’s house with graffifiti loss of life threats.“Discovered you,” learn one.
Edgar Davids’ €2m mortgage transfer from Juventus wasn’t too fashionable, though it helped to free a scheming Xavi from his defensive shackles. From January 11 to Might 1, 2004, Barça gained 14 and drew three of their 17 league video games, together with a Xavi-inspired 2-1 triumph on the Bernabeu, and recovered to complete 2nd.
Subsequent, the contacts of vice-president Rosell delivered fashion and Champions League-winning expertise in two of the 2004 finalists, Ludovic Giuly and Deco. Most essential was Samuel Eto’o, who’d been at Mallorca since 1999/00 however was nonetheless technically co-owned by Actual Madrid. He was precisely what Barça wanted: a confirmed goalscorer motivated to rub Madrid’s noses in it. He hit 25 targets in his first season as Barcelona romped to the 2004/05 title.
All the things had clicked. Particularly, the core of La Masia-schooled Xavi, Puyol, Victor Valdes and Andres Iniesta chimed with the fanbase in a approach that Actual Madrid’s Galacticos hadn’t.
“It was like we had returned to Johan Cruyff and the Dream Group,” Xavi later instructed FFT. “In a 4-3-3 with the deal with possession, we obtained again our dream – our ilusion.” Their hope.
Higher was but to return. On the Bernabeu in November 2005, Rijkaard surprisingly chosen an Argentine teenager for less than his second begin of the season, and his first-ever look towards Actual Madrid. Inside 14 minutes, Lionel Messi had his first Clasico help – Eto’o, the goalscorer. To not be outdone, Messi’s mentor, Ronaldinho, scored a brace. So mesmeric was his first aim, the Brazilian sitting Sergio Ramos on his bottom earlier than caressing the ball previous Iker Casillas, that the cathedral of madridismostood to applaud. “A stratospheric Ronaldinho retires the Galacticos,” bemoaned Marca, the Madrid-based sports activities day by day.
In Might, Barça gained the Champions League, beating Arsenal within the closing. Laporta, entrance and centre, revelled within the glory. Perez had fallen on his sword 4 months earlier, conceding “we’d like a change of route”.
The king was useless. Lengthy stay the king.
#OnThisDay 2006Barcelona beat Arsenal 2-1 within the Champions League Finalpic.twitter.com/M9oHwYz9nkMight 17, 2020
Barça, nevertheless, are predisposed to taking pictures themselves within the foot. Seldom is hassle removed from the floor.
In the summertime of 2005, vice-president Rosell had resigned and brought eight others with him – together with immediately’s head honcho, Josep Maria Bartomeu – after accusing Laporta of adjusting as an individual. 4 weeks earlier than the Champions League closing towards Arsenal, Rosell launched the guide Benvingut al mon actual, ‘Welcome to the true world’, a tell-all exposé on the Laporta administration. In 2008, vice-president Soriano additionally resigned.
On the pitch, issues had been little higher, regardless of Messi’s inevitable rise to superstardom. Out of practice and out of motivation, Ronaldinho was more and more resembling his Spitting Imagepuppet which simply smiled and shouted “fiesta”.
Underneath their new president, Ramon Calderon, Actual Madrid took benefit.
Fabio Capello arrived to stamp some extra authority on a squad missing a spine – or Galacticos. Figo had joined Inter; Zidane had retired; Ronaldo would be part of Milan in January. Beckham remained however Capello made it clear he wasn’t needed, solely to alter his thoughts as soon as impressed by the midfielder’s utility.
Of their place got here gamers Madrid wanted: Fabio Cannavaro and Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2006, then Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder a yr later. Van Nistelrooy scored 64 targets in 96 appearances.
With Barcelona struggling, Los Blancos gained successive league crowns. In probably probably the most Actual Madrid transfer of all time, Capello obtained the sack after the primary title for not profitable stylishly sufficient. He was changed by the prickly former Barça and Madrid playmaker Bernd Schuster, who presided over a goal-hungry title-winning marketing campaign. The Galacticos had been gone however the trophies had returned, and that was sufficient.
Come Might’s Clasico, the league lengthy since wrapped up, Madrid twisted the knife. Barça, 18 factors behind their rivals, needed to carry out the pasillo: the dreaded guard of honour.
“Barça, it’s simply right here,” guffawed Marca’s entrance web page, full with useful dots outdoors the Bernabeu tunnel the place all of the gamers ought to stand. Eto’o had made positive he was suspended and didn’t journey. Madrid gained. 4-1.
The subsequent day, Laporta introduced Rijkaard’s successor: a former ball boy and membership legend from the Catalan inside, whose hero was native protest poet and songwriter Lluis Llach.
B workforce boss Josep Guardiola i Sala was now Barcelona’s head coach.
Like his footballing mentor, Johan Cruyff, twenty years earlier, Guardiola trusted each himself and the Barcelona approach.
Nearly instantly, he instructed Ronaldinho to seek out himself a brand new membership. There was a brand new zip, particularly when Spain’s victorious Euro 2008 squad members began arriving on the workforce’s pre-season coaching camp in Scotland. Sergio Busquets, a central cog in Guardiola’s midfield for Barça B, was instantly promoted.
“I bear in mind pondering after the primary coaching session at St Andrews – at all times with the ball, nice strain, depth from Pep – ‘issues are going to go effectively for us’,” Xavi later instructed FFT.
Most essential was getting Messi on board. The connection between participant and supervisor was initially frosty, because the sulky 21-year-old was nonetheless fiercely loyal to Rijkaard, who’d given him his massive break. Nonetheless, relations improved after Guardiola, towards membership orders, allowed Messi to hitch up with Argentina on the Beijing Olympics. The supervisor himself valued his personal gold medal with Spain in 1992.
Barcelona picked up one level from their first two matches, towards Numancia and Racing Santander, however a 6-1 rout of Sporting Gijon was an indication of issues to return. “Belief in him,” Puyol instructed FFT final yr, “and outcomes often comply with.”
The machine Pep constructed established a 12-point lead, however a relentless Actual Madrid – now with Juande Ramos in cost – had minimize it to 4 earlier than Might’s Clasico. Guardiola didn’t panic. He performed Messi as a false 9 for the primary time, with Eto’o and Thierry Henry both facet. Messi created one aim after which scored two extra in a staggering, era-changing 6-2 win for Barça. Xavi helped himself to 4 assists.
“Soccer has a god,” wrote Sport. “Messi is Maradona, Cruyff and Greatest rolled into one.”
The Copa del Rey arrived a month later, then the Champions League trophy, to finish an historic treble in Guardiola’s first season.
“That season was my spotlight at Barcelona,” Xavi later instructed FFT. “Nothing compares to that season, and I don’t suppose something ever will. It’s the greatest season in Barça’s historical past; the very best soccer I’ve ever seen from a workforce.”
Guess who’s again
That summer season, Florentino Perez returned to the Bernabeu. Every week after his second coming, the Actual Madrid president broke the world switch file to purchase Kaka for €67m, after which broke it once more to recruit Cristiano Ronaldo for €94m. Karim Benzema, Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso additionally arrived, the latter three in an try to supply a Spanish core to the workforce. Perez had been studying.
“We now have to do in a single yr what we’d often do in three,” stated Perez. It wasn’t arduous to note the subtext: he needed the €250m bomba of CR7 & Co. to overshadow Barça’s season of seasons. To not be outdone, Laporta engineered a deal for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
If there was any doubt that El Clasico was now Spain’s greatest culebron, or cleaning soap opera, it disappeared in 2010. Perez the pantomime villain was already again; now Jose Mourinho crossed the divide to handle Actual Madrid. In the identical summer season, Rosell returned to change into Barcelona president. 4 years later he was jailed for cash laundering, and changed by Bartomeu, earlier than being acquitted in 2019.
Figo transferring to Actual Madrid in 2000 was the turning level. El Clasico, although, is an evolving story. Barcelona at the moment are extra more likely to splash the money on playthings they don’t essentially want – Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann – because the ‘mes que un membership’ mantra has more and more worn away.
In Madrid, the alternative has occurred.
“If you happen to have a look at Barça’s tradition,” stated a Actual worker in 2009, his eighth yr on the membership, “it’s the identical at under-12 and under-14 ranges. The under-16s play the identical approach as the primary workforce. You don’t discover that at Madrid, and also you surprise what their fashion is.”
That worker overhauled the Actual Madrid academy, with a Barcelona imaginative and prescient, starting with the B workforce. Dani Carvajal, Nacho and Marcos Llorente all got here by way of Los Blancos’ resurgent Fabrica to elevate the Champions League.
At this time, he’s the one supervisor in historical past to win three European Cups in a row. His identify is Zinedine Zidane.