The History of the Real Madrid-Barcelona Rivalry

The Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry began in the 1940s because of political problems. Later, it grew to become one of the biggest rivalries in world soccer.
The History of the Real Madrid-Barcelona Rivalry

Last update: 27 January, 2021

Everyone knows that the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry is one of the biggest and fiercest on the planet. But how did it all begin?

Today, it’s known as “El Clásico”, but it hasn’t always been this way. Previously, the most anticipated game of the soccer calendar in Spain was the match between Real Madrid and Atheltic Bilbao. Even though Madrid and Barca had been facing each other since the beginning of the 20th century, the match didn’t have the same significance as it does today.

The rivalry between the two clubs began in the 1940s against a difficult political background. Over the years, it gradually evolved into the most anticipated game of the season, not just in Spain but around the world.

Timeline of the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry

Madrid and Barca met for the first time in a friendly in 1902. They would then face each other 15 times in the 1910s. However, their first official meeting was the Copa del Rey in March 1916, so they’ve now been playing each other for more than a century.

When soccer became a professional sport in Spain in 1928, Madrid and Barcelona were the undisputed leaders in Spanish soccer. But the game still wasn’t considered that significant until the 1940s, when politics crept into the game.

During that time, Spain was under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco and the Generalissimo Cup was a tournament in his honor. We could say that this is when the hostility between the two clubs began.

In 1943, the teams faced each other in the semi-finals of the Generalissimo Cup. In the first leg, Barcelona won 3-0 at home and the Catalan public treated the Madrid players quite badly – a sign of the political tension at the time.

For the second leg in Madrid, there were rumors that the Barcelona team had been threatened if they were to win. The game was very controversial and ended with Madrid winning 11-1 and the presidents of both clubs stepping down.

The iconic Di Stéfano

Oddly enough, it was a single player who further increased the tension between the two clubs. We’re talking about none other than Alfredo Di Stéfano, who would go on to become a Real Madrid icon.

The Argentine caught the attention of both clubs and both wanted to sign him. Even FIFA had to get involved with the transfer. But in the end, Di Stéfano signed for Madrid, something that Barca would never forgive.

Alfredo Di Stéfano.
Alfredo Di Stéfano was an icon of the UEFA Champions League in its early years. Image: RFEF.

The Catalans would have to wait a few years until the 1970s to have a star player who could make a difference in matches against their greatest rival. The Dutchman Johan Cruyff wasn’t enough to overcome the mighty Madrid, but he did frustrate them every time they faced each other.

In the following years, Madrid would clearly dominate, although Barcelona worked to gradually reverse the trend. By the time the nineties came around, Barcelona was on the up, with the famous Dream Team led by Ronald Koeman.

Increased rivalry in the new millennium

At the turn of the century, the rivalry showed signs only of increasing, and there were many memorable clashes in both La Liga and the Champions League. This was when the duel for these competitions really began and continues to this day.

There was, however, another controversy between the two clubs when the Portuguese player Luis Figo decided to sign for Madrid. Having played for Barca for five seasons, he was swiftly branded a ‘traitor’ by the Barcelona faithful.

At that time, both clubs were doing everything possible to have the best players (for example, Ronaldinho at Barcelona and Ronaldo at Real Madrid). But, without a doubt, everything changed with the arrival of two world soccer stars: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo and Messi, the key players in the Real Madrid-Barcelona Rivalry.

In 2010, these two teams had the most successful coaches, Guardiola and Mourinho, but they were still pressing for more. And the talents of Ronaldo and Messi only provided an excuse for the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry to intensify further.

‘CR7’ and ‘Leo’ became their teams’ top scorers and were the star attraction in each ‘clásico’. Ronaldo became the first player to score goals in six consecutive derbies. Messi is the top scorer in derby matches between the two clubs.

In total, Real Madrid and Barcelona have faced each other a whopping 243 times. They have tied just 52 of those matches, with Madrid winning 96 and Barcelona winning 95. With such a tight record, every clásico is guaranteed to be a fantastic show of passion and talent!