Sunday gives us the latest version Spain’s El Clásico, a match has been billed as not only “key” but EARTH-STOPPING. Meetings between Barcelona and Real Madrid have always been massive games, but in the last few years, the media hype machine has gone into full-on hyperdrive. What other league match in club soccer merits its own promotional campaign before a date has even been confirmed? (Shout out to the drug-addled rhesus monkey that is apparently in charge of La Liga scheduling.)
The build-up to these fixtures is so all-encompassing that the other 36 league matchdays are often relegated to afterthoughts; even more so when there are Clásicos in the Copa Del Rey, Spanish Super Cup, and Champions League as well. The seemingly endless obsession despite the same two clubs playing each other has left some disillusioned. “Enough!” they cry. “How many times are we supposed to get excited for this same thing again?”
Well, here is the correct answer to that rhetorical question: Every single time. Because no matter how often these two teams play, El Clásico is fucking amazing.
Imagine if Diego Maradona’s and Pele’s respective primes had overlapped. Now imagine that they were playing for two of the three or four best club sides on the planet; sides which also happened to be fierce historic rivals. Imagine that they were also playing alongside other generational, breath-taking talents, like Garrincha, George Best, and Johan Cruyff. Almost overwhelming, isn’t it? Just the idea of that much talent, on that big of a stage, that regularly … it sounds absurd, because it is. The level of quality that will be on the field on Sunday has no historical precedent. People make a big deal out of El Clásico because that’s exactly what it is: a really big fucking deal.
Attempting to apply any reasonable context to Real Madrid and Barcelona’s current levels is almost impossible without straying into hyperbole. How do you put something so over-the-top into perspective? Luis Suárez was the best player in the Premier League last year. If he moved to Germany or Italy, he’d likely be the best player in those leagues, too. At Barca, he’s not even the best forward not named Lionel Messi. Is that hyperbolic? Maybe. But it’s also true. El Clásico in 2015 is hyperbole made flesh.
Make a list of the best eight or so attacking players in the sport. These things are subjective of course, but unless you are contrarian beyond all reason, your list contains at least five players that will on the field at Camp Nou. This is basically an NBA All Star game, only with a title on the line, players who are actually trying, and a small chance the equivalent of Anthony Davis and LeBron James choke-slam each other through the scorer’s table in the third quarter.
And then there’s the obvious. It would irresponsible to discuss El Clásico without looking at players who have come to define not just their clubs but this entire era of soccer: Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – two players so un-fucking-believable they could have walked right out of a performance enhancing drug lab comic book. After a brief dip, Messi is now back to his pre-2014 levels of “arguably best player of all time” instead of “arguably best player of all time looking a bit bored.” Ronaldo, instead of doing his usual shtick of breaking one freakish record after another on a weekly basis, is in the midst of a downturn of his own – a Messi/Ronaldo-level downturn, that is. He’s only been scoring at a rate of two goals every three games so far this calendar year. Any other non-Messi forward would throw their grandmother down a flight of stairs for that kind of return, yet it might be the most out of sorts Ronaldo’s been in almost NINE YEARS. We are living in the era of gods amongst men, even when the men in question — the Clásico supporting cast — are some of the best players of their generation.
El Clásico will always be a big game on the European soccer calendar. There is too much history and too much money involved for both Barcelona and Real Madrid to become irrelevant any time soon. But during this particular moment in time, it is bigger and better and more exciting than ever. We shouldn’t take it for granted just because we’ve become acclimatized to the extraordinary.
Getting to see these players play on the big stage for high stakes on a regular basis is a gift. The hype can be overbearing and irritating, but make no mistake, the hype is real. Fuck your cynicism – this is a goddamned golden age. Enjoy it while you still can.