Football has been the most popular sport in Spain ahead of basketball and tennis. The Spanish Federation has more than 21 thousand registered clubs inside their country. It is believed that most people in Spain watch football or have some sort of connection with the game.
One of the biggest football rivalries in the world, El Clasico is played between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. This fixture is renowned for its intensity. FC Barcelona won the first Clasico by 3-1 in 1902. Since then Real Madrid have won 98 times and Barcelona have won 96 times. This shows how close the games have been for the past century.
A decade ago, on 16th April, the craziest month in Spanish football history kicked off. Real Madrid and FC Barcelona were set to face each other four times in 18 days. These games were deciding games for La Liga, Copa del Rey, and UEFA Champions League. These games were identified as Pep vs Mourinho, Messi vs Ronaldo. The team including players, coaches were all hyped up and among the best in their positions.
1st game: La Liga
The first game is a La Liga fixture at Real Madrid’s home Santiago Bernabeu. In the reverse fixture, Los Blancos were humiliated by Barcelona with a scoreline of 5-0. So, there was a lot of pressure on Mourinho’s Madrid. And then comes Mourinho’s mind games. In the pre-game press conference, Mourinho said that Madrid has trained with only 10 men as they always get red cards against Barcelona. Real Madrid were eight points behind and needed a win to bounce back. Mourinho was right. Raul Albiol got a red card in the second half for his challenge on David Villa. Messi scored the penalty to give Barcelona a well-deserved lead. But the Catalans wasted a lot of chances and Ronaldo scored his first Clasico goal through a penalty in the 82nd minute. Barcelona, despite creating so many chances, were held by Madrid at the Bernabeu. Despite a draw, many weren’t impressed by Madrid’s performance. Madrid completed just 179 passes compared to Barca’s 740. Di Stefano compared Madrid to a mouse.
2nd game: Copa del Rey final
Four days later, they meet again. They were set to face each other at the Mestalla Stadium for the Copa del Rey final. Both teams deployed their strongest line-up. As shown by Inter in 2010, Mourinho knew Barca could be stopped. The game went into extra time as it ended goalless after 90 minutes of play. In the 102nd minute, Messi lost possession in the midfield and Alves failed to block Di Maria’s cross which led to Cristiano scoring the winner through a thumping header. Di Maria was sent off minutes later after getting a second booking. A total of eight cards were dished out throughout the game. Madrid managed to win the Copa del Rey and stopped Barcelona’s pursuit of a second treble. However, the chaos doesn’t end here at full time. Real Madrid parade the Copa del Rey trophy with streets full of fans. Sergio Ramos dropped the trophy mistakenly from the parade bus’ deck.
3rd game: Champions League semis 1st leg
The first leg of the Champions League semifinal was set to happen at the Bernabeu. However, the chaos started at the press conference itself. Mourinho insisted that Guardiola created a new style of football where referees are criticized even when they make correct decisions. He also said that he would be ashamed if he had won the 2009 UCL as Barca did with the game against Chelsea. Guardiola, who has always taken the high road in front of the press, lost his nerve this time.
“In this room (Madrid’s press room), he is the chief, the f***ng man. I cannot compete. We worked together for four years. He knows me, if he wants to go on milkmaid tales written after the Copa del Rey by press or Perez, fine. If it matters more than our relationship, it’s up to him,” Guardiola said.
The whole press conference room was shocked to hear this from Pep. After a goalless first half, there was a scuffle between the players over Pedr’s tackle on Arbeloa. Barcelona’s reserve GK Pinto was sent off and the crowd went hostile. Within minutes after the second half kick-off, Ramos elbowed Messi before Pepe’s tackle on Alves. Alves was carried off on a stretcher and Pepe was given his marching orders. Mourinho reacted in front of the fourth official and was sent off to the stands. Madrid were struggling with 10-men against a dominant Barcelona who had 83% possession. Soon Messi scored a tap in to give the Catalans lead. In the final minutes of the game, Messi picked up the ball in the middle of the ground from Busquets and destroyed the whole Madrid defense single-handedly by scoring one of the best goals in Champions League history. The first leg ended with Barcelona winning 2-0 away from home. In the post-game press conference, Mourinho addressed by talking about the referee decisions in favour of Barcelona over the years. He also claimed that ‘dark forces were at work as UEFA didn’t want Madrid to progress’. He also claimed that Barcelona’s UNICEF sponsorship gave them extra sympathy from refs. Barcelona reported both Madrid and Mourinho to UEFA and later Madrid were fined and Mourinho received a touchline ban for the 2nd leg. 11 days, 3 games.
4th game: Champions League semis 2nd leg
7 days later, Barcelona hosted Madrid at Camp Nou. Mourinho received a touchline ban for this game. The first half ended goalless as things looked calmer without Mourinho on the touchline. In the second half, Barcelona took the lead and increased their lead to 3-0 through Pedro’s strike. Madrid equalized through Marcelo’s tap-in and the game ended 1-1 with Barcelona qualifying for the final. However, one incident happened as El Clasico used to be incomplete without controversies in those times. A fan invaded the pitch and tried to place the traditional Catalan hat on Ronaldo. After the game, Ronaldo addressed to the media that ``maybe next year they should give Barca the trophy directly”.
Four games in a short span of 18 days changed the history of El Clasico and were the craziest month of football in Spain. However, things have changed and the Clasicos haven’t been the same since.