Every football fan is familiar with El Clásico, the match played between two of the most successful and popular football clubs in the world: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The rivalry between the two clubs is intense and has a rich history, dating back to the 20th century.
Over the years, the rivalry has grown stronger and the matches have become a cultural phenomenon, transcending the sport of football. The two clubs have competed against each other in countless high-stakes matches, including domestic and international competitions.
The matches are often marked by intense physicality, tactical battles, and moments of individual brilliance from some of the greatest footballers in history, such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Alfredo Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff, and many others. The atmosphere at the stadiums during El Clásico matches is electric, with fans from both sides cheering on their team with passion and fervour.
And now, in the latest of a long list of such instances, two players have taken this battle outside the stadium.
Iker Casillas and Gerard Pique, two players who have been instrumental for Madrid and Barcelona respectively, recently engaged in a tete-a-tete.
Speaking on a Twitch stream of Pique’s Kings League, the pair argued over the treatment of referees in La Liga and how it impacted their clubs.
It started with the defender, who said that “both Barcelona and Real Madrid have benefitted the most from referees”.
Casillas was quick to interrupt saying “No no, one team [Barca] got to go 2 years without receiving a penalty against it, it’s incredible”.
This comes hot on the heels of the El Caso Negreira scandal that has dominated Spanish football media this past week. It revolves around Barcelona and former VP of the Technical Committee of Referees Enriquez Negreira, with claims stating that the club paid him for scouting services and verbal reports between 2016 and 2018.
Casillas’ comments refer to Barcelona’s run of league games in the same time period of 2016 to 2018, wherein the club went 78 consecutive matches without conceding a penalty.
The streak began in January 2016, in a La Liga game against Malaga. Barcelona won the game 2-1, and although Malaga had their fair share of opportunities to score, they were unable to earn a penalty. In February 2018, in a game against Espanyol, the streak came to an end when the referee awarded a penalty to the opposing team.
Many pundits pointed to this achievement as a testament to the club’s defensive prowess, as well as the skill of their midfielders in breaking up play and preventing their opponents from reaching the box, but the reality may be something more sinister and even corrupt.
This season, former Barca player and now manager Xavi Hernandez has often complained about the match officials, but this could simply be a masking tactic to deviate attention and even claim deniability over what the club has done in the past.
That is not to say that their arch-rivals Real Madrid have not benefited from inconsistent or biased refereeing. But with no solid proof to hold them accountable, at least they can enjoy this show from afar.
Italian football was rocked by a scandal like this only recently, and now it is Spanish football.
Rick clubs are ruining the beautiful game for us and we, as fans, can only hope that their good conscious gets in the way before the sport is lost to us forever and all that is left of it is scripted entertainment.