READ: Part 1
THE BLOND ARROW:
When we take a look back into the history of football and the greatest players to have played it, the names that immediately come to our minds are the names of Pele and Maradona. But very few football fans of today are aware that these two big names are over shadowing the name of a certain talented Argentine Maestro, Alfredo Di Stefano who redefined the way of playing the game beautifully.
Di Stefano was born on July 4, 1926 in Barracas, Argentina to family of Italian immigrants. A powerful centre forward that he was, he possessed unrivalled stamina, technique, tactical prowess, supreme vision and the ability to play anywhere on the pitch. His years of hard work, discipline and dedication earned him a place in the first team squad of River Plate at the tender age of 16 but since he faced tough competition from the intimidating forward line of Angel Labruna and Adolfo Pedernera, the young starlet was loaned to Hurracana to polish his already impressive skills by gaining experience in the Argentinian Primera division.
Di Stefano was called back to River following the sale of club legend Pedernera to Atlanta, and Di Stefano fitted in the famous forward line-up of ‘La Maquina’ very well. In his first season he scored 27 goals as the top scorer for River which were instrumental in leading the Buenos Aires club to the Primera division title in 1947. He earned the nickname of ‘La Saeta Rubia’ meaning ‘the blond arrow’ owing to his hair color and his attacking runs. He earned a place into the Argentinian national side and after two years of domestic success with River Plate and the Los Albicelestes he moved to the Columbian club of Millonarios scoring 267 goals and helping the club to four league titles between 1949 and 1953.
Di Stefano’s game won applauds worldwide and also offers from top European clubs. Real Madrid’s acquisition of Di Stefano was one of the most significant, politically controversial and important transfers in the history of club football. Santiago Bernabeu, the then President of Madrid saw Di Stefano become the ultimate centerpiece of his dream team Real Madrid, he always aspired to build in the pursuit of conquering Europe and Spain. Having built one of the most technologically advanced stadiums in the world in 1947, Real Madrid was able to fill the stadium with 80000 fans week in week out by displaying some champagne football put up by the likes of Di Stefano, Puskas, Kopa, Gento and Santamaria.
Alfredo Di Stefano was an outstanding player and the closest one to could ever get to being a ‘total footballer’. He was the perfect blend of astounding athletics and exceptional technical skills. His coach at Real Madrid, Miguel Munoz praised his influence by stating ‘With Di Stefano in the team, you have two players in every position’. Di Stefano introduced a prototype of total football philosophy way before Rinus Michel’s tactical revolution of Ajax in 1960’s. Even the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton was left in awe when he saw the Blond arrow play in the champion’s league semi-final leg between Manchester United and Real Madrid from the stands of Santiago Bernabeu.
Whether it was defending, attacking, scoring goals, assisting goals, stopping goals all with mixed pace, strength, vision , pace and fighting spirit, Di Stefano put Madrid in the centerpiece of European and Spanish football single-handedly. He set up a fearsome partnership with Ferenc Puskas in Madrid by scoring a total of 216 goals in Liga and 49 goals in Europe. This led to European and domestic dominance for Madrid from 1954 to 1964. During the time of Di Stefano Los Blancos played breathtaking football steering Madrid to 8 Liga titles, 5 European cups, one Copa Del Rey and an Intercontinental cup. He also collected several individual awards including multiple Pichichi’s, European top scorer award in 1958 and 1962 an two Ballon D’ors to the Best player in Europe in 1957 and 1959. He was a truly World-class player in the History of the game.
REBUILDING AFTER FRANCO:
Since the days of Franco, the battle between Real Madrid and Barcelona has been more than just a rivalry. It has been a conflict of passions and utter hatred towards each other. Being the top two teams in Spain these two have been in direct confrontation with each other for the last 60 years.
They are similar to each other when it comes to goals, ambitions, aspirations and expectations but they are vastly different when it comes down to their philosophies and traditions. Real Madrid is a club that has always looked forward to live by an effective business standpoint, where revenues and profit are as equally important as glory, quality football and silverware. On the other hand Barcelona has been biased around a philosophy of nurturing home-grown talent into World class footballers. Although this philosophy can be dated back to 1960’s, it was the Johan Cryuff’s era when Barcelona went strength to strength with the young teams consisting of youth players. Guardiola re-invented this philosophy in the last decade which gave this world a team which was quite reminiscent of Cryuff’s team which won a host of silverware.
Although both the teams start the season with the motive to win every competition they play in, the El Clasico is considered as the most important match within the season. Even if either of them win the Liga or Champions league in a season but a defeat in the El Clasico proves as a dark shadow over the glory earned. The impact of the result in this game is quite high as both the teams put their pride and everything at stake in order to win this battle. It is evident by the fact that a lot of tension was created when Barca lost the game 5-0 to Madrid at the Capital city in 1995 when Zamarano’s hat-trick in the first half itself sealed the deal. Also the 6-2 thumping by Barcelona to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu was a devastating one for the home side as they lost five league games in a row post that defeat and Barcelona went on to win the Liga, the Copa Del Rey and the Champion’s League by the end of the season, the first major treble in Spain’s history. The passions of 1950 have not subsided even though the fixture is no longer politically significant.
THE MAN CALLED CRYUFF:
Johan Cryuff is clearly the most influential player in the history of the El Clasico. He was bought from Ajax at a record fee of 922,300 Euros in 1973. With his transfer happening two years prior to the death of Franco, he ushered a new era into the history of El Clasico. It is often said that Cryuff deliberately chose Barcelona in order to represent his opposition to Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. Joining Barca after a few games into the season, he overturned Barca’s abysmal start to that season by immediately making his influence and winning the Liga the same season for Barca, its first Liga victory since 1960. He not only helped Barca work its way back to contention but also humiliated Real Madrid 5-0 at the Bernabeu in the Liga.
His unique style of football was based around the philosophy of ‘Total Football’ and it did not change Barca or El Clasico but the entire football world. This philosophy is based around a very fluid system of players involving dynamic movement of players from their positions depending on the match situations, possession of the ball and exploiting pockets of space created during the game. This is very unlike the traditional philosophy which emphasizes players to hold their positions. This attractive style of play captivated the entire of the football world.
He returned to Barcelona in 1988 as a manager and imposed this philosophy again from a higher level of clubs hierarchy and led Barca to 4 liga titles and its first ever European title. He built a team renowned as Cryuff’s Dream Team in the mid 90’s. He was also notorious for developing fantastic players like Koeman, Romario, the captain Guardiola. Guardiola would in turn re-invent Cryuff’s philosophy in 2009 as a gaffer and give this world the best football team ever.
Cryuff was also famously responsible to develop La Masia into a top footballing academy. Cryuff imbibed into Barcelona the exceptional tradition of nurturing and developing young home-grown talent into world-class footballers. If Barcelona stand out today as one of the top clubs with a distinct footballing philosophy,, it is all because of the initiatives taken by Cryuff. He was an influential player, a revolutionary manager, the father of Barcelona’s philosophy and an inspiring idol for every generation of the football club. A soccer historian puts it quite simply, “Cryuff was a coach, the head coach of the entire club from the academy up”.
THE LEGEND OF LA QUINTA DEL BUITRE:
In between Di Stefano’s Madrid and Zidane’s Madrid of 2002, there was a devastating Real Madrid side whose influence on World football was comparatively unnoticed. La Quinta De Buitre meaning the generation of Buitre left its marks on world football as a team that played fascinating football. The term La Quinta De Buitre was originally given by Julio Cesar Iglesias in his article which was the first ever article that made reference to this great team. The article focuses basically on five players, Emilio Butragueno, El Buitre, who was the leader of the generation and a fantastic centre-forward; Manolo Sanchis, an intelligent central back in an era of rough and tough central backs; Michel, a hot-blooded winger and the only member of the Quinta to win a Champions League title with Real Madrid; Rafael Martin Vasquez, the most underrated player and the most technically gifted player of the La Quinta generation; and Miguel Padreza, the black sheep of the generation and a classy striker. This generation showed classiness off the field and scintillating talent on the field.
Though this team marked the end of Di Stefano’s career as a manager, it won 5 Liga titles from 1984 to 1991. This teams characteristic was the use of home-grown players instead of foreign ones and this led to reception of much love by the Madridistas to the organic success these native talents achieved.
But this Golden period of Madrid collapsed eventually after the departure of Vasquez, at the start of the 1990-1991 season leaving behind a gaping hole in the Capital team. This was coupled by the aging of the other key players and a drop in their performance. To top it all Cryuff’s Barcelona and its football philosophy started to outshine this generation of Madridistas. But this Madrid side will always be remembered for the feat it performed of achieving success with homegrown players something which Barcelona could not repeat for twenty years until Guardiola stepped in as a manager.
THE ROLE OF MEDIA:
Media plays a very crucial role in transforming a sport from being just a game on a grass pitch to a talking point of the people all across the country. Media is highly responsible for transforming a sport into a culture and to keep the people bound strongly to the sport. In Spain however things are slightly different. Media has become fuel to the burning rivalry between the Madrid and Barcelona. In Madrid, Marca and AS try to project the Los blancos as a glory symbol while on the other hand SPORT is proud of Barcelona and its represented Catalonian heritage.
These newspapers not only publically declare their hatred towards each other and don’t lose even a single opportunity to splash mud on the teams which are ambassadorial to their rival press. Jose Mourinho had publically expressed his dislike towards the Spanish media and this dislike is considered one of the key reasons for his limited tenure at the Capital club. In 2005, SPORT took a swipe at Madrid’s three consecutive Liga titles and the underlying ‘Galactico’ policy. Meanwhile, when Ronaldinho was caught partying night after night, Marca and AS didn’t spare him and gave their ultimate best to stain the Barca reputation. Media has power to influence and entire nation but the media in Spain openly exploits this power to create turmoil underlying an already existent historic rivalry.