Written by By Sarah Snowdon, CNN
The spectacle of Barcelona-Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in full flight has long dominated El Clasico and the league. This year it seems that this sporting rivalry’s time is now done.
While there is still the Champions League, Copa del Rey, and the possibility of a third – and final – league meeting, there are no longer a duopoly of the biggest three games in the Spanish calendar for many.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, speaks with Fifa’s Executive Committee in Bogota. Credit: Sefton Fernando/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
There have been many reasons for this, from sponsors to European TV rights. But the biggest reason may be that two Spaniards are no longer clashing heads.
The games will go on
In terms of rivalry, despite Real Madrid not being in El Clasico this season, Argentina midfielder and former Barcelona player Javier Mascherano says it will not change.
“It’s more than a rivalry,” he said in a recent interview. “The Spanish league is still at the top of the world and Barcelona and Real Madrid are still at the top of world football.
“The national teams have always been close as well, but it wasn’t the same.
“The rivalry means a lot to Spain and its people, and they will still be at the top because it is a league they created.”
Mascherano believes it will “require a little more teamwork” for Barcelona and Real Madrid to claim their fourth consecutive La Liga crown.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino supports the bill to extend the finals of the Club World Cup by three weeks. Credit: STR/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
And it’s not just about fighting for the title. The world’s best players are now exported around the world at the highest prices. As a result, there may not be the appetite to see star players who can’t be available to watch in person.
“The sport is now very professional, everyone goes to watch the games and the players live on TV,” former Barca player Jordi Cruyff, son of former team captain Johan Cruyff, told CNN Sport.
“The main thing is it is getting more professional and the quality is greater every year.
“Football is global now — when Barca played Real Madrid, they would get 600 million people watching in Brazil. The sport has evolved. So now they go to Barcelona-Real Madrid and it’s a different game, with the same players. The sport will not suffer.”
You can still watch
Cruyff has certainly experienced the attention on the game from his own country, having lived in Barcelona since he was 10.
“There’s a rivalry and a history, but I love it,” he said. “The players are just as skilled as Messi and Ronaldo. It’s as nice to watch them as to watch Diego Maradona in his heyday.”
There’s certainly an appetite for star players and rivalries. The Club World Cup, the eighth edition of which took place in Abu Dhabi in December, broke all attendance records, with 1.1 million fans seeing their teams win or lose.
The final between Western Sydney Wanderers and Real Salt Lake on December 15, between the two best teams in the Chinese Super League, or the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final between Real Madrid and Sevilla, were all television viewers’ favorites.
Copa del Rey: Real Madrid book another showdown against Sevilla
El Clasico was even made into a film, in Messi’s own hands, called “El Gran Clasico”.
But Spain has a long history of soccer football. More than three million people watched Girona play Spanish giants Barcelona last Saturday in the city of Vitoria.
“The national team is one of the best in the world and there’s still the Europa League and Copa del Rey,” Cruyff said. “It won’t be the same.”