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Book Review: El Clasico by Richard Fitzpatrick

El Clasico, Barcelona and Real Madrid, is one of the biggest games in World football. Richard Fitzpatrick’s books subtitle goes further still, posturing that it is “Football’s Greatest Rivalry”.

Football's greatest rivalry?

Football’s greatest rivalry?

For some casual fans of Spanish football the fixture is now spoiled by a fidgety and overly combative atmosphere in recent encounters. This is could be because of the perceived rise in play acting and simulation, negative Madrid performances and the over-saturation of games played. In the 2010/11 season they faced each other five times, four of the games were in an 18 day period between mid-April and early May 2011.

“Millan-Astray [Founder of the Spanish Foreign Legion] was one of Franco’s most vocal propagandists, famed for his idiotic rallying cry ‘Long live death!’ Millan-Astray married a general’s daughter in 1906 who failed to tell him, until after their wedding, about her decision to live a chaste life”

We are quite fortunate to witness the fixture playing itself out season after season, and not just because of our good fortune to witness many of the games because of satellite TV etc. As Fitzpatrick illustrates in this brief work El Clasico has a rich and complex history. The book takes time to explore some interesting aspects of the rivalry; the social differences between the two cities, the effect on both clubs of General Franco’s reign, academy versus cheque book recruitment practices and similarities between the hardcore supporters of both clubs. Fitzpatrick also looks at some of the more controversial events in the history of both clubs, including the transfer of Luis Figo to Real Madrid and the kidnapping of Enrique Castra which led to Barcelona’s league challenge completely unravelling at the end of the 1980-81 season.

“There is such an emphasis on education at La Masia that Barca’s youths spend, on average, half the time of their counterparts at top English football academies playing organised football – only 90 minutes a day, plus a match at the weekend.”

The only criticism was that much of the book focuses on events during the 2010-11 campaign, giving it a slightly rushed feel. A substantial part of the book focuses on to Jose Mourinho too. The blend of history with the modern-day skirmishes complements each other rather nicely. While the clubs once embodied the mood and beliefs of their congregation, the superstar managers and big money signings see them moving further and further away from the collective and towards individuals.

Rating: 7/10

Richard Fitzpatrick lives in Barcelona. He works as a freelance journalist, covering sport and features, for the Irish Times and Irish Examiner newspapers and also as a correspondent for Irish national radio. He previously worked in Dublin, San Francisco and Toronto as a features writer. His other credits include The New York Times, Sunday Times and The Herald in Scotland plus other publications around the world.

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