No Messi, no Ronaldo… no Clasico? Ridiculous as it sounds, that’s likely how some will view this evening’s game. Not the fans, of course, nor the purists, but certainly those strange types who have been drawn to this fixture by the magnetism of its leading men. For them, you suspect, a match between Real Madrid and Barcelona which doesn’t instruct their fundamentalism isn’t one worth paying attention to.
Sad, but true – and probably for the best, because without the bluster inspired by Messi and Ronaldo and whatever worth that debate ever really had, the focus will now return to the actual football. For all the excellence that those two brought to this game, their rivalry also created an unwelcome sub-plot which – at times – was allowed to become the headline act.
Comparing those two careers is appropriate. In fact, given the standards Messi and Ronaldo have set and how high above the rest of the game they’ve floated for the last decade, it would be bizarre if a binary relationship of some sort didn’t exist. Nevertheless, it’s still natural to look forward to a moment when Barcelona against Real Madrid returns to being about the clubs.
That might seem contrary – what kind of person would wish away two of the finest footballers to ever play? – but clubs and fixtures should never be overshadowed by individual personalities. In this particular case, there’s a case for saying that a small-but-loud minority have hijacked the history of el clasico, the duelling ideologies and politics of its two opponents, and have condensed that rivalry down into something which instructs an unwinnable discussion about “greatness” and fuels a charmless social media war.
That’s not a comment on either Ronaldo or Messi, rather what they have unwittingly created. Spanish football already misses the former and, when the latter retires, he will also leave a vast, unfillable void. Clearly, the game will be poorer when this era ends for good. But while Barcelona against Real Madrid has always been a fixture decorated with stars, its heft and gravity are actually all the clearer without the blinding light of its two supernovas.