El Clasico

Ten years ago the game between Barcelona and Real Madrid held little interest outside of Spain. But thanks to the arrival in Spain of David Beckham (and of course Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate), the coverage of La Liga on our TV’s and of course the rise to worldwide dominance of Barcelona, it has today become the biggest club match in the world.

Ironically, over this period, the animosity between the players seems to have been replaced by hype in the media. This has been quoted as one of the reasons for the success of the Spanish national side in the past five years which has seen them win 2 x European Championships and a World Cup. For many years the reason for their capitulation in major tournaments was said to be the divisions in the squad between the Castillians and the Catalans.

However, today the Spanish are undoubtably one of the greatest international teams to have ever graced a football pitch, and those divisions have disappeared (10 of the 11 starters in the 2010 World Cup final played for the two teams). But that hasn’t stopped the game capturing the eyes of the world.

Over recent years the teams seem to have played each other more and more, and with characters like Jose and Pep in charge, not forgetting some of the world’s greatest players such as Ronaldo and Messi, it is more than just a game. Fortunately, this excellent book, written by Richard Fitzpatrick has come along just in time for the first high-octane meeting of the two Spanish Giants in the Super Cup.

For anyone interested in the history of the rivalry, both in terms of the political and geographical context then this is a must read. It contains some fascinating interviews as well as a page turning history. If you have read Morbo, the history of Spanish football by Phil Ball, then you will certainly enjoy this. The book also packs some serious facts and stats at the end which would put John Motson to shame.

Fitzpatrick’s advantage of living in Spain, covering football for a living allows him to get under the skin of the performers and audience of the greatest show on earth. He examines some of the classic games played between the two, and the impact the results had. The 1974 5-0 win by the Cruyff-inspired Barca team in 1974, for instance is put into context, along with the more recent encounters under Jose and Pep.

Whilst it is hard not to see that Fitzpatrick takes the Barca side in some of his debate, it is still a great read and one that should be slipped into every piece of hand luggage for those travelling, or downloaded onto the Kindle for those delayed train journeys. You can buy a copy of the book from Amazon here.

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