Spanish Inquisition: The Myth About Real Madrid & Barcelona

Goal.com's Subhankar Mondal seems to be stirring a hornet's nest as he damns those who believe that Real Madrid are the devils of club football.....

One of the most damning accusations spit at Real Madrid in recent times is their abuse of money.

Over 250 million were splashed out this summer to recruit Neo-Galacticos and questions persist whether it is morally right to spend so much money on football - mere football, as some would suggest - when the world is subsumed in economic crisis. And true, president Florentino Perez's persistence to spend huge to become huge is an apt indication of just how much money there is to make in football.

But to start hating Madrid just for this makes as much sense as Westlife being adored by a 22-year-old. After all, it's not only Madrid who have spent big in recent seasons. Manchester United signed Rio Ferdinand, Juventus purchased Gianluigi Buffon, Lazio went for Hernan Crespo, Manchester City signed Carlos Tevez and Chelsea acquired Andriy Shevchenko and others for lumpsome sum of money.
 
Even Barcelona didn't shy away from making big name and big money signings, spending close to €70 million in landing Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter this year. In the summer of 2008 they spent almost €80 million on Daniel Alves, Seydou Keita, Martin Caceres and Aliaksandr Hleb and went on to win the historic treble, but not before losing to Numancia in the first week of La Liga. And they didn't 'buy' success but if Madrid win the Champions League this season, then they would have certainly bought it, right?

True, Real Madrid are in debt but which big club in Europe isn't? Being in debt doesn't necessarily mean that Madrid would go bust. If it were that simple a law, then Manchester United would have been defunct when the Glazers tookover and by this time Liverpool would have lost its most famous club.

Spending big, though, comes with strings attached. Expensive imports imply that home grown local players are ignored and this has been the case with Madrid too. But Barcelona, Madrid's most loathed rivals, are the perfect antidote to this policy, aren't they? They play with only home-grown players and are the 'good boys' while Madrid are the 'bad boys'.


Who Among Them Is A Calatan?

No, Barcelona do not play with only home grown players and their last two European Cup success wasn't built only on local talent. Samuel Eto'o developed at Real Madrid's youth academy and Ronaldinho came to Camp Nou because Madrid thought he was 'too ugly to sell shirts'; Deco, Henrik Larsson (although he came on a free transfer), Daniel Alves, Eric Abidal, Yaya Toure, Rafael Marquez, Thierry Henry, Seydou Keita all were bought. How many youth academy graduates did the 2008 Champions League finalists, Manchester United and Chelsea, have in their lineup?

And if that weren't enough, perhaps you could cast your mind a little back to the end of the last century when the Barcelona side were virtually a mini-Dutch national team, just as Arsenal are a 'multinational international' football team at the moment. As Phil Ball noted in perhaps the most defining book on Spanish football, 'Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football', "Even their second strip was changed to orange to make the players feel at home. Such a situation would be unthinkable for a club like Athletic Bilbao, and although Real Madrid themselves are hardly famed for excluding foreigners from their ranks, even they would flinch from transforming their particular flagship into such a foreign body, to the perceived detriment of the local cantera."

Madrid's worst trophy-drought lasted for three years, Barcelona's league triumph in 2005 was their first silverware since 1999; erstwhile president Joan Gaspart made ridiculous signings and spent ridiculous amounts of money to do just what Florentino Perez is doing at the moment: 'buy' success. He couldn't but Perez possibly will and that's the difference.

And speaking of Joan Gaspart, perhaps it would be pertinent to observe that Real Madrid are not the only club with boardroom shenanigans. Over in Catalunya, Joan Laporta is not as transparent as many think he is. For those unaware of him spying on his own staff, this excellent piece on the subject from Goal.com's Madrid-based Spanish football expert Ashish Sharma would be quite a revelation. As for clubs from England, you know what's happening at Liverpool and United, don't you?


What's The Difference Between Perez And Laporta?

Oh, and there's the history. True, there were connections between General Franco and the world's biggest club but it was Atletico Madrid that the Spanish dictator was reportedly a supporter of. Of course, subsequent history shaped up in such a way that FC Barcelona became the most viable outlet of expression for the Catalans but were they the only ones in standing up against Franco's regime? What about the Basques? Weren't they resistive to Franco's influence?

Moreover, there are many outside the confines of Spanish football who foster the belief that Barcelona are the only club from Catalunya. Lest anyone forgot, there is another club from Barcelona, a certain Espanyol, who almost invariably have more Catalans in their side than Barcelona do, whose section of supporters identify themselves as Spanish and not only as Catalans, but sadly whose existence is almost cruelly suppressed by the media.

And as far as hypocrisy and ignoring of facts are concerned,when Madrid win a dubious penalty, it's considered as cheating and buying the referee. When Xavi wins a laughable spot-kick against Espanyol, well, the Barcelona darling can never cheat, can he, just as Lionel Messi can never score with his hand against the same team?

The myth about Real Madrid being devil incarnate has inflated so much that it would take almost a century to just temper the tone. However, part of it can be understood.


Who Among Them Wasn't Bought?

Madrid might have produced local talent in recent years but unlike Barcelona they have not sustained faith in them. Alvaro Negredo, Juan Mata, Roberto Soldado, David Morena, Esteban Granero (now back at the Bernabeu) all were let go in favour of expensive offshore talents.

Moreover, Barcelona have a culture of playing poetic and romantic football and they have a certain philosophy. For the Catalans, obsessively possessive football cultivated by a certain Johan Cruyff remains at the heart of their footballing culture. As for the Madrid faithful, they too demand football of the most entertaining brand but they have yet to find a consistent and broad definition for 'good' football.

Madrid's outlook to reach faraway regions for commercial purposes saw them sign David Beckham when Ronaldinho was available, take tours to the Far East when perhaps pre-season training would have been more appropriate. In trying to establish themselves as the biggest club in the world, which they are, Madrid have lost one of the most basic ideologies of the beautiful game, that is, to function as a football club first and then as a commercial entity.

Yet the reasons for the non-Barcelona supporting football fans to 'hate' Real Madrid are based on abstract ideas and distorted truth. As Goal.com's Sulmaan Ahmed scripted, ".....In truth, it's (Real Madrid) little more than a highly successful club with a highly successful businessman taking highly risky financial gambles....."

Subhankar Mondal, Goal.com