Rebuilding After Franco

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El Clasico, Post-Franco

Since the days of Franco, the relationship between Real Madrid and Barcelona has been extremely hard to define. We cannot just call it a rivalry, as it would be a gross understatement of the passion and hatred shared by each football club for the other. Being the top two teams in Spain, they have been in direct confrontation for almost every major title over the last 60 years.

Although they are very similar in their performance, goals and ambitions, both football clubs are vastly different when it boils down to tradition and history. Madrid has been known to live by an extremely efficient business standpoint, where revenues and profits are equally important as champagne football and silverware. On the other hand, Barcelona has a very unique style and identity, based around nurturing and developing young players into world greats. Although this philosophy can be dated back to the 1960’s, it was the Johan Cryuff era in which Barcelona went from strength to strength, with young teams predominantly composed of youth teamers. This is obvious when we look at the current team coached by Pep Guardiola. The system seems like one of total football adopted and perfected by Johan Cryuff in the 90’s when he led Barca to a whole host of silverware.

Although both football clubs go into the season looking to win every title that they enter in, there is no greater glory than victory over the other in the El Clasico. In fact, even if either club won the League, or Champions League, but got trounced in the Clasico, the season would not be deemed as a great success. There would still be a dark cloud over the loser of this great battle, since bragging rights mean so much to the fans of each team.

Some of the greatest, most hotly contested, and intriguing games in the world of football have been in El Clasico. For instance, tensions were inflamed in 1995 when Barcelona was crushed 5-0 at the Bernabeu Stadium, as Zamarano’s first half hat-trick helped Real Madrid play Barcelona off the pitch.

However, not even that stood up to Barcelona’s 6-2 drubbing of Real at the end of the 2009 season. Even though Barca played this match between legs of their Champions League semifinal, they ran riot in the Spanish capital through goals from Henry, Messi, Puyol, and Pique. From there, Madrid went on to lose their next five league games, while Barcelona won the first major treble of trophies in Spain’s history. Clearly, the passions from the 1950s have not subsided, even though politically the games are no longer as significant.

The Cruyff Years

Johan Cruyff was one of the most influential players in the history of this feud of soccer lore known as El Clasico. In 1973, Ajax transferred Johan Cruyff to Barcelona for a world record £922,300. With his transfer happening a few games after the start of a so-far abysmal season, many hoped Cruyff would revive Barcelona’s chances of winning the league. Lo and behold, Cruyff not only helped Barcelona work its way back to contention, but also helped the club win its first La Liga championship since 1960, very infamously humiliating Real Madrid 5-0 in the Bernabeu in the process.

Joining the blaugranas just two years before the death of Francisco Franco, Johan Cruyff very visibly ushered in a new era of El Clasico, one that starkly contrasted from the Franco era. In fact, one of the very reasons he chose the Catalonian team as his second club was because it represented the opposition to Franco’s dictatorship in Spain.

With his completely new style of play, now known as “Total Football,” Cruyff did not just change El Clasico and Barcelona, but the entire game itself. This fluid, almost circular, style of play has transformed positional football, changing the typical football formation from a 4-2-4 to a 4-2-2. This style of play focused on constant movement, on players constantly moving and maintaining possession. “Total Football” is all about constantly finding different pockets of space to work with. Instead of standing in one general location like past football players used to, Total Footballers are required to run to the open space, to move up or back to play different positions, based on what they deem appropriate and strategic for the success of the team.

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In 1988, Cruyff returned to Catalan as a manager. This era of Cruyff management is considered one of the greatest eras of FC Barcelona. Cruyff’s Dream Team in the early to mid 1990s won four league titles, as well as Barcelona’s first ever European Cup victory. Furthermore, Cruyff was fantastically notorious for developing fantastic players like Koeman, Romario, and Guardiola, Cruyff’s captain, who would inevitably follow in his footsteps as Barcelona manager and lead the club to multiple La Liga titles and Champions League titles. In this way, Cruyff, in one way or another, accounts for many of the trophies and mere achievements in Barcelona’s history.

On top of all of this, Cruyff also revolutionized the entire concept of youth development, putting unbelievable emphasis on Barcelona’s youth academy and setting up the club very well for the future. As one soccer historian puts it, “Cruyff was its coach, the head coach of the entire club from the academy up.”

Although he might not have had an unbelievable impact on El Clasico as a player, outside of the 1973 season, what Cruyff did as a manager, as a youth developer, and as a tactical genius, for Barcelona, has paved the way not only for some unbelievable eras of recent Barcelona football, but also for the recent era of global dominance that has seen Barcelona emerge as arguably the greatest club team of a generation and, potentially, of all time.

Here is a video of Cruyff, the legend:

The Legend of La Quinta del Buitre

In between Di Stefano’s legendary team and Zidane’s Galacticos, one Real Madrid team left its marks as one of the most entertaining, enjoyable generations of madridismo football: La Quinta del Buitre. The term Quinta del Buitre, in English the Buitre’s generation, was used for the first time in a sports article in El Pais. Written by Julio Cesar Iglesias, the article, “Amancio y La Quinta del Buitre,” the article made the first reference of this legendary generation and focused on five players in particular. The five players were: Emilio Butragueno, El Buitre, the leader of the generation, and a fantastic central forward; Manolo Sanchis, an intelligent central back in an era of rough and tough central backs; Michel, a hot-blooded winger and the only member of the Quinta to win a Champions League title with Real Madrid; Rafael Martin Vasquez, the most underrated player and the most technically gifted player of the La Quinta generation; and Miguel Padreza, the black sheep of the generation and a classy striker. Overall, the generation was marked by a great theme of classiness off the field and exciting play on the field.

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Although this generation marked the end of Di Stefano’s managerial tenure at Real Madrid, La Quinta del Bruite still managed to win 5 La Liga titles from 1984 to 1991. Without any significant foreign players, the Quinta generation was loved my the madridistas for its homegrown players and very organic success.

After the 1989-1990 season of La Liga, the 1990-1991 season marked a change of the cycle, evident from the start of that year. The departure of Martin Vazquez that year was very symbolic and left a gaping hole on this Real Madrid team. With Vazquez gone and many players growing older and older, the door was open for Cruyff’s Dream Team to swoop in and take control of La Liga. During the following three years, in fact, Barca built their legendary status.

Despite this overpowering by Cruyff’s Barcelona team, La Quinta del Bruite will always serve as a proud example of home grown Spanish players exerting total dominance on Spanish football, an achievement that Barcelona could never replicate, until about 30 years later.

Media as Influence Today

Ever since the emergence of the media in Spain, football has become more than just a game played on a grass pitch. In fact, media has had a huge influence on the global spread of the beautiful game. The media is often used as a tool to connect millions of people with the sport, and helps spread information on events on and off the football pitch.

Sometimes different section of the media can become associated with or biased towards a particular team. This has been the case in Spain for many decades. The national dailies Marca and AS in Madrid, and Sport in Barcelona have been used as a vehicle to promote the interests of their respective football teams. Ever since the famous Di Stéfano saga, these rival newspapers have locked horns and provided a vast array of controversial information to feed the begging public.

What happened in those days is no different now. In the last few years we have seen many instances of these newspapers spreading and increasing the bad blood between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Whether it is sport declaring the greatness of Barca and Catalonia, or Marca and AS advocating the dominance of Los Blancos, these dailies have pushed the El Clasico rivalry to new heights. With very different strategies employed in each area, both sides of the media agree on their dislike for the other.

These days the media has the power to cause so much turmoil in the football world. When it was 2005 and Madrid had not won a title for 3 consecutive years, it was Sport that took a swipe at the Spanish capital and Florentino Perez’s “galactico” policy. On the other hand, when Ronaldinho was caught partying night after night, Marca and AS were on deck to stir the waters and topple the Barca ship that had won the double the year before.

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Even in transfers the media plays a huge role. Over the past few summers Real Madrid and Barca have been linked to a whole host of players. Granted they have a massive attraction effect on these world stars, but sometimes we get the feeling as if these are players that the respective newspapers want in each team. By unsettling players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the media was able to hasten the process by which these world stars move to Spain. Overall they play a huge effect in promoting the ideologies of their respective teams, but also are ever present in publishing all the dirt on the other. This influence has really taken the rivalry to new heights.

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To continue to Figo: The New Di Stéfano, click here.

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