Hundreds of years of El Clásicos have given us a fair amount of heroes. Some won their side the league title; others ended weeks of speculation with their brilliant performances; a few even changed the way we looked at football. Here are a few of the recent examples of players who became club legends after their world class performances.
Leo Messi, 27th April 2011
It was called The Mega Clásico. The spring of 2011 saw four clashes between the two giants within only 18(!) days, two of which were going to be Champions League semi-finals. The Mega Clásico was so incredibly hyped up, but ended up being a quite boring affair for the neutral fans, at least for the first 70 minutes or so, as Barcelona got the game exactly where they wanted it. With their extreme tiki taka football, Blaugrana got a lot of new haters but the Culés couldn’t care less as they watched their heroes execute a perfect game tactically at the Santiago Bernabéu. When everyone thought Barcelona would follow through right to the end with their extremely patient passing, Leo Messi broke the deadlock in the 76th minute. The little Argentinian put the Catalans a goal up with a nice finish in between Iker Casillas’ legs. 10 minutes later he was at it again. With a mind-blowing run, he passed four Blancos defenders and doubled Blaugrana’s lead with a composed, yet clinical finish in the bottom-right corner. Barcelona progressed to the final, and took their second Champions League title in three years. Messi became a true El Clásico hero.
Cristiano Ronaldo, 21st April 2012
In the spring of 2012 the two rivals were, as always, fighting for the La Liga title. Los Blancos were desperate to win it after a 5-year league title drought. As the teams stepped on to the beautiful Camp Nou grass, Real Madrid were four points clear at the top. Barcelona had the momentum coming in to the clash, as they just weeks earlier were trailing by ten points. After a few dropped Madrid points, it looked like Barcelona could be back in it again with a win as 99,000 fans gathered at the biggest stadium in Europe to watch Pep Guardiola once again battle José Mourinho. But they were in for a shock. Los Mergengues took the lead after just 17 minutes, which was followed by an Alexis Sánchez equaliser. But the Blaugrana joy lasted just 5 minutes. Mesut Özil received the ball on the right-hand side, and found a space for Cristiano to run into. The run, the pass, and the finish was all completed with perfection. It was that goal which pretty much sealed the Madrid side their first league title since 2008, and Ronaldo became the hero of the season.
Ronaldinho, 19th of November 2005
In 2005, Ronaldinho was at his absolute best. In my opinion, no player has ever been more superior to the other players than the Brazilian was at that time. And that clash at the Bernabéu just confirmed that. That night in Madrid changed the way I looked at this beautiful game. It was the foundation of my love for Spanish football and everything around it. I’m actually getting quite emotional as I sit here remembering what went down that night. Barcelona smashed Real Madrid 3-0. An 18 year old Leo Messi was behind Samuel Eto’o’s goal which gave Barcelona the lead in the first half. In the second half Ronaldinho completely stole the show. With his two amazing solo runs he scored a brace in the space of 17 minutes.
After his second goal, the crowd at the Bernabéu gave the magician a standing ovation. Watching that made me realize what football is all about. Sure, you follow your team week in and week out, and the goal is to always see the team you support win. But when that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appreciate great football. The standing ovation didn’t mean all the Madrid fans suddenly became Culés. It didn’t mean they were particularly happy with what they had just seen. It just meant they knew they had seen something extraordinary by an incredible footballer, and respected it.
Admitting your defeat in such a huge clash like that, and doing so by standing up, applauding, and showing your respect for it is something the Madrid fans should get huge credit for. That is something we rarely see in modern football, but it is something we, at times, can see in the Spanish top division. That is why I love it so much.
Prediction for this year’s El Clásico: 2-2
Spanish Football Expert