As a seasonal day, the Clásico lost some of its luster but, while its profile fell, its significance did not fall.
No great leap of imagination is required to foresee such play in the last few weeks of the season:
Atlético Madrid, nerved and smoking, gives way to the summit of the League. Barcelona, since the turn of the year restored and unbelieved, replace the Diego Simeone team with the restoration of its crown.
Real Madrid, at the same time, breezed past Liverpool and bordered by Chelseas, the familiar scent of European glory in the nose to take place in the Champions League final. By most measures, Real Madrid would be the Istanbul underdog. Munich’s management teams are certainly more consistent and integrated, Manchester City and Bayern. Even Paris St-Germain has more stars, more momentum for its revenge mission fuelled by the brilliance of Cylian Mbappé, as it proved so exciting on Munich on Wednesday night.
But Real Madrid and the Champions League are, and that is not necessarily logical. It and Barcelona, Clásico’s twin, repellent poles, may not exceed seven weeks’ glory each. In what looked like free fall, the two spent a lot of this campaign. It’s hard to imagine they will rest at the pinnacle in a few weeks’ time.
The perception was not an illusion, it means. The financial dispute in Barcelona, even after a new president has been elected, is alarmingly real. His wage commitments continue to be higher than any other team. His team’s aging still. Hundreds of millions of dollars have still been dumped on the transmission market. She has still lost sight of her legacy, alienated the biggest star in her history.
The situation in Real Madrid is not as dangerous, but there are also the clear signs of institutional self-sufficiency and endemic drift. Her team begins to crumble as they grow old. The Club has not yet produced the fruit of its policy of paying premiums to prodigious young people — often with only senior games under their gloves.
The Real Madrid finance was spread out through the revamp of the Santiago Bernabéu who forced her to play home games for one year on her training grounds. She believes that she can sign both Erling Haaland and Mbappé during the next two summers at best, and at worst, it is fabulous and faintly hubristic. His payroll is also littered with unwanted high earners. Real Madrid, lulled by glamor and success, transformed itself into its president Florentino Pérez’ personal fief.
All of those problems have not been conceived by a silly, skeptical news media; they are not evidence of some rampant anti-Barcelona and somewhat anti-Madrid conspiracy. They are real, all of them on Saturday when the clubs meet for the second Clásico of the season at the edge of the Spanish capital.
In 50 years’ time, sports history scholasts could do worse than start in the 18 days in 2011, when Real and Barcelona played one another four times, examining why it became what David Goldblatt called the biggest cultural phenomenon in the modern age.
The air of a seed and flowers, a dawn and dusk, and midday sun even from the relatively shallow perspective point of 2021 are two week and a half. It was what soccer was building for in the first decade of the 21st century. It’s what soccer would measure everything against during the second decade of the 21st century.
The Clásico was not just the meeting of the two main powers or the two best teams in the world. It also was the clash of the supernova match between his two brightest stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It was a fight of wills and a fight of minds: José Mourinho against Pep Guardiola, defense against attack, destruction against creation, darkness against light.
These were days when soccer held its breath.
It is somehow fitting then that the most significant Clásico in recent years will be held in the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano rather than at the Bernabéu on Saturday evening, ten years later. For a decreased game, this is a reduced circumstance.
It’s very important. Atletico Madrid will be removed from the top of the League by the winner. The loser will suddenly flirt with crisis, as is the case when both meet. The biggest game of the weekend is undoubtedly. However, it is not, as it once was, the central part of the European season, the structure of the globe.