After winning its ninth European Championship in the 2001-2002 season, Real Madrid still seeks their elusive tenth victory in the competition, “la décima”. Florentino Pérez resigned as president of Madrid in 2006, but it would only take a little over 3 more years until Pérez was re-elected, and a second Gálacticos era began for the club. Their pursuit of European glory has only intensified after the recent success of Barcelona. From 2008 until 2013, FC Barcelona won 4 La Liga titles, 2 European Championships (one of which included a two-leg semifinal victory over Madrid) and 10 out of the 21 Clásicos, compared to Madrid’s 5. This run of success undoubtedly placed them amongst the greatest club teams of all time.
As football has progressed into the modern age, the rivalry has not grown stale or uninteresting. Instead, it has escalated to further heights, as newer subplots have emerged while the old wounds remain. Portuguese manager José Mourinho, hired by Real Madrid in 2010, oversaw a three year reign at the club containing several fierce clashes with Barcelona and their coach, Pep Guardiola. Mourinho’s first Clásico ended in a 5-0 Barcelona win, which Pérez later claimed was, “the worst game in the history of Real Madrid.” As Mourinho began to mold the team into his preferred defensive, counter-attacking style of football, the Clásicos soon became more evenly matched and intense affairs. In 2011, two matches between the sides in April and August saw a combined 6 red cards, with Mourinho even surreptitiously poking the eye of Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova during the August melee (at around 2:45 in the video of the fight). Mourinho’s combative coaching style heavily contrasted Guardiola’s calm demeanor, and and while both are longer with Madrid and Barcelona, many of the same players remain, and every matchup between the sides is a fierce battle.
With the gap between the wealthiest football clubs in the world and other clubs increasing, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have been propelled to new heights, and will continue to be amongst the most successful sporting entities in the world for years to come. Superstar players and coaches have been signed and released, and both teams have suffered disappointing years every once in a while, but the rivalry promises better things to come. Players like Neymar and Gareth Bale, set to contend in their first Clásicos this year, are sure to become pieces of the rivalry’s lore. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will continue to be among the best players in the world, and break scoring records as they look to trump each other on the field. But even after they all retire, there will still always be new conflicts that arise, and a deep divide between Barcelona and Madrid, and Castile and Catalonia. El Clásico will forever remain one of the greatest, most intense sporting events in the world.
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