In a shot-in-the-arm tune-up for Wednesday’s clash with eternal rival FC Barcelona in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) Cristiano Ronaldo scored three goals in Real Madrid’s 4-0 trashing of Getafe in the 21st round of Spanish La Liga at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. But the Portuguese superstar fell one goal behind in the standings for the Pichichi Trophy awarded by Madrid newspaper Marca to the top scorer after each season.
On Sunday Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona’s marvel from Argentina, scored four goals in Barça’s 5-1 demolition of Osasuna at Camp Nou, to increase his league total for the season to 33 goals, an average of 1.57 goals per game. Messi is way ahead of last year’s pace, when he finished with 50 goals, an all-time high for La Liga. He has become the first player ever to score in 11 straight league games and the youngest ever to reach 200 (202) goals.
It’s been this kind of a career for Ronaldo, a magnificent athlete, who has the misfortune of being contemporary with the one player more and more people consider the greatest in the history of the game. Messi has won the last four FIFA Ballon d’Or trophies awarded each year to the world’s best player. Ronaldo won the award in 2008 and finished second four times, including the last two. If there’s no Messi, Ronaldo has five Ballons d’Or. No other player has won more than three.
The individual competition between Ronaldo and Messi, which truly exists only for Real Madrid and CR7 fans, as Messi is clearly from another Galaxy (forget the Galacticos…) ads another dimension to the Real Madrid – FC Barcelona rivalry. Not that this game needs any props. Real vs. Barça is the biggest match-up in club soccer, watched by hundreds of millions around the globe. It’s called El Clasico, but it’s much more than that. This sports rivalry is socially and politically charged like no other and is rooted directly in the country’s history of the last 80 years or so.
Barcelona’s motto, Mes que un club (More than a club) is a symbol and catalyst of Catalonian pride and spirit of democracy and independence, which are as strong today as they were during General Francisco Franco’s rise to power in the 1930s until his death in 1975. While the motto came later, Barça was a symbol of resistance to Castilian domination and Franco’s fascist regime subjugation of Catalan institutions and interdiction of Catalan language. Barcelona’s martyr president Josep Sunyol was shot by the Falangist troops in 1936 while he was visiting Republican troops near Madrid during the Civil War.
The social and political aspect of the rivalry between madridistas and culés is certainly more important to the fans than to the players. Messi and Ronaldo are foreigners, and Spanish players from the two teams are called up to play together for the Spanish national team. They have done it admirably, winning the last two European Championships (2008 and 2012), with a World Cup title sandwiched in between in 2010. But when they wear their clubs’ jerseys, the rivalry on the pitch is always fierce and the show is always high quality.
For a rivalry to endure the two teams must be evenly matched, and none is tighter than this one. In 111 years Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have played 221 games in league, Cup and other official competitions. Real has won 88 times, Barça 86, with 47 draws, including a 2-2 in the last encounter in a league game on October 7 last year at the Camp Nou. Messi and Ronaldo scored all goals.
Wednesday’s game and the return on February 27 at the Camp Nou are more important for CR7 than they are for LM10. Barça is 15 points ahead in La Liga after the best half of the season in history and has everybody healthy. Madrid is marred by internal conflict between players and coach Jose Mourinho and will miss important players (Casillas, Pepe, Ramos, Di Maria, Coentrao). Advantage Messi. Again?
Vladimir Moraru played soccer for 15 years and has watched it for 60. He hasn’t seen a player like Messi and a team like FC Barcelona.