BFB at the Movies: El Clasico – More Than A Game

Just over two months ago, I received a copy of El Clásico, More Than a Game in the mail direct from the producers. Very kind people, they are, and I agreed to review it for them because, well, it’s hard to keep me from watching something about El Clásico anyway and I happen to run some sort of blog or something and I need to fill the dead airwaves (webwaves?). And so now, in mid April, I’m getting to this just as the actual Clásico circus comes to town.

Directed by Matt Robertson, Sam Johnson, Zachary Fernandez, and Taylor Shwartz, El Clásico is the story of Barcelona vs Real Madrid. In short, it tells the history of the two clubs against each other and what makes the rivalry such a complex and intense bit of business. The long form of that is, of course, exactly why it takes a documentary to scratch the surface of such a deep historical, cultural, and personal rivalry.

For starters, this movie isn’t really for those of you (us?) who know the story, have read the story, and live the story every day. It’s not for those of you who have studied the differences between the regions and make it something of a personal goal to understand what goes into making this game exactly what it is. Only that’s sort of the part that this film gets exactly right: there isn’t something that this game exactly is. It isn’t definable with any sort of dictionary definition. Yes, “el clásico is Barcelona vs Real Madrid” but it is also so much more than that.

The film interviews a variety of figures, mostly professors and sociologically knowledgeable people for the first half, and then a combination of sporting directors (Zubi and Butragueño) alongside journalists (Phil Ball, Santi Segurola, and Sid Lowe to name just 3) to try and get at the essence of what this thing means. It’s a rampaging bull in a china shop, it’s a delicate orchid in a flower show, it’s a nationalist vs separatist showpiece for the world community, etc, etc until we all faint.

Part of me looks at this documentary and says “yawn” because, well, you live it or you don’t and it’s impossible to boil what I feel about this down to an hour’s worth of footage. Right? Or, well, not quite. The first half is a history lesson about how Catalunya came to be what it is and how Madrid ended up in its position as FIFA’s “best club of the 20th century.” While it isn’t totally correct in some of its assertions, in the sense that there is more nuance to it than what is stated, it’s not wrong and, for god’s sake, it’s just an hour and if you didn’t know any of this stuff you’d probably be blown away.

It’s a well-made movie. There’s no doubt that the group that made this (and it seems extensive from the credits and the fact that there were 4 (!) directions) knew what it was doing. It was making a movie with the brightest minds (minus Guardiola and Cruyff) in the game, had access to press conferences and footage, and kind of likes Barça more than Madrid. Perhaps I say that as someone who is biased toward FCB, but I did think it was a bit uneven in its handling of Madrid’s illustrious history. It makes the very valid point that the club wasn’t Franco’s team (at least not from the beginning–and probably not in the end either), but it focuses more on the idea of Barça being a fancy and fun team to watch than on Madrid being, well, a goddamned good team.

The movie was released in 2011 (on a memorable date known internationally Isaiah’s Wonderful Birthday) and has footage of the manita and the 2-0 at the Bernabeu from the previous season. There’s Ramos shoving Puyol in the face, etc and a lot of talk about Madrid being afraid that Barça is eclipsing them.

Where the movie gets truly interesting is in its assertions that Madrid is the team that embodies what it means to be Spain in the moment. It has no real identity in that it has an ever-shifting identity, whereas Barça have a Catalan identity that also plays out as a universal concept of solidarity, community, and independence from a centralized power.

All-in-all, I’m really glad I watched it and it made me shake my fist in happiness when Barça scored and frown with indignation when Madrid put one in the net as well as think about, really, what the hell am I doing sitting up late thinking about these things as an American whose ancestral lands are nowhere near the Iberian peninsula. Then again, isn’t that the whole point?

Buy a copy here: Do it for the love of documentaries that are about football. The movie was made by California State University, Chico students over about 2 weeks. I wish I could have met the jerks they met. I would have high-fived Sid Lowe, hugged Phil Ball, and I don’t know to Santi Segurola.

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. – Both teams are wounded; coming back from the continental war. Physical and mental exertion from last midweek CL match and the looming return leg would certainly affect this classico. BARCA has no other choice besides give our ALL to win this classico. We concentrate to win this classico first and think about Chelsea latter. Let the mental edge that we already harness in Pep reign will play part and take us success in the next two “season defining” matches. The three points from this classico would result a huge pressure for EE in the remaining liga matches, potential slip off ensuing and BANG we’ll be top! A draw or lost would give EE license to decorate the Cibeles for liga party.

    – Considering the 4 points cushion, I think Mou would pragmatically play for a draw. They will start with defensive minded formation/player. I am sure Pep have a secret weapon (tactics) to get us win this classico. Excited to see how that tactical approach will surprise EE.

    Visca BARCA!

  2. Near the bottom of the Mourinho tactical flowchart, there is a question: “Is the team losing after 88 minutes?” If yes, proceed to kick the living sh!t out of every opposition player you can find. Extra credit for causing a scuffle in the technical area.

  3. Drogba out vs Arsenal, a doubt for return leg next week. Oh, the jokes floating around Twitter. “Maybe he hurt himself falling,” “grass allergies,” etc. He spent almost 3 and a half minutes on the pitch last week. Wow.

    1. Almost three and a half minutes on the grass? Wow. Wonder if he broke some kind of record for that.

  4. As if you needed another reason to despise Real Madrid, their Manager of New Media, Pedro Duarte, has revealed himself to be a fascist nutball. He has been using his personal twitter account to call for the extermination of unions, a Third World War, and the destruction of the Basque country. Oh, and he also thinks the Third Reich was the best-dressed empire in history.

    1. Yeah, but that’s not really fair. Real Madrid fired him for this when it was brought to their attention. It’s hard to blame the organization for thoughts of a single person. Maybe they could have vetted him better, but at the same time, loons will wiggle their way through things sometimes.

      Casting stones, and all that.

    2. Not so innocent, Isiah.. The history of the institution shows that they are quite a cabal with the Partido Popular and the fascists reared and nurtured by Franco.

      Today it is not so clear cut as Real Madrid is far more globalised than before. But the remnants are quite there. And thriving.

    3. So, let me get this straight. Someone is discovered to have fascist beliefs and is promptly fired by their employer because of it, yet that they were employed in the first place is proof positive of a long history of fascism that pervades the employer?

      You may very well be right about the employer (though I’m not so sure about that–there’s a difference between conservative and fascist, after all; there’s also a difference between corrupt/connected and fascist), but does that mean their actions are wrong here? It was brought to their attention and they fired him. What, exactly, was wrong about how they handled it?

      It’s easy enough to cast doubt on an entire organization for the sins of a few or just one. But what about Laporta’s brother-in-law who was a member of the Francisco Franco Foundation, yet served on the FCB board? Does that means the entirety of Barça is fascist?

      Don’t get me wrong, I dislike Real Madrid on a political level as well as a general emotional one, but there’s a difference between Franco’s director of state security going into Barça’s locker room at halftime of a game and the current Real Madrid board being a “cabal” in league with the dying embers of a fascist movement.

    4. Isaiah.. you haven’t really got what I said, straight enough. Let me reiterate and clarify what I meant.

      First of all, I didn’t mention that RM’s actions vis-a-vis incident were inadequate. They did the right thing. Good for them.

      Second of all, the fact that a senior representative of the Real Madrid organisation had outright fascist beliefs was what I was talking about… as “remnants” continuing to thrive.

      Third, unlike Barca which threw away the Boixos Nois, RM has only winked at the Ultra Sur.

      Fourth, while yes, there is a difference between the conservatives and the fascists… it is not as big as that in Spain. The Partido Popular still holds a lot of folks with such beliefs and who don’t quite articulate it because of its lack of resonance anymore. Jose Maria Aznar anyone? And while the direct connection between the Falangist PP during the Franco era and Real Madrid isn’t quite there now, there are remnants of it in the PP who are influential with RM’s establishment is my contention.

      Fifth, when I mentioned “cabal”.. I suggested that remnants of the Franco past are still parcel of the RM establishment, but their influence is limited because of RM’s globalisation today.

      Those are my views. And I believe they don’t differ too much from yours.

  5. Sanchez is training with the group today, which means he’ll be getting in that ass tomorrow. So:

    Alves Pique Mascherano Puyol
    Busquets Iniesta Xavi
    Cuenca (that’s right, beeyotches …. Cuenca) Messi Sanchez

    Let’s do this.

    1. I assume that you are relegating Adriano to the bench, because of the singularity that would be created if he started this many games running, or that he might explosively rupture a hamstring before halftime.

      Interesting to see about Sanchez. If he plays close to a full game Saturday i’m not optimistic about the CL return leg for him.

      Since the game is at home i’m more optimistic about seeing cuenca rather than pedro.

      Cesc is the big question that shouldn’t have to be asked right? As tragic as it has been to watch he was still key in many of the missed chances. An argument could be made that he will eventually start converting those again and he needs to play through it. For me he can play through it after the next two games.

    2. In all honesty I see Pedro starting over Cuenca this weekend with, him making the appearance against Chelsea at home.

    3. I’m thinking Adriano against Chelsea for the added width, as they won’t be attacking like EE, thus necessitating the 4-man back line. And Pedro starts against Chelsea, I’m thinking. I rather imagine Guardiola will be hoping for the unlikely gift of a 2 or so goal lead vs EE, so that he can sub off Xavi for Thiago.

    4. Wouldn’t Cuenca be more tactically disciplined in providing width against Chelsea? I feel he is more capable of getting a cross in these days than Pedro. His strength or lack-there-of is equal for both games. Though not much is expected of Cuenca I think he will be key in the next two games for Barca. I agree with you on playing Adriano against Chelsea. Since Sanchez is most likely out maybe both Pedro and Cuenca start tomorrow.

    5. I think that tomorrow’s match will be the kind of dirty that Cuenca can deal with. The Chelsea match will be physical, rather than dirty. Couple that with the import of the moment (even at home) and Cuenca might be a little out of his depth starting.

      With Abidal and Villa healthy (not to mention Pique and Keita), the selection headaches are a lot less. But I think that Guardiola has to choose. The other day he chose to lose 1-0, rather than expending full energy to go for the win/draw. Coaching for today, but thinking about tomorrow.

  6. Since the defeat and the near certainty we’ll be out of the Champions League, I can’t say that I’m feeling any excitement for this weeks classico.

    1. So instead of “We’re all gonna die!” our new battle cry can be “Don’t bother, it’s over, we’re dead?”

    2. im feeling the same way! frightened, thought kevin wud remove that thing with a post but still im afraid and sad and dont feel for the clasico

    3. Y’all are worried for the team yet you can’t work up feelings for the clasico?

      It’s late April and we still have chances in all competitions.

      Enjoy the team. Cheer for the team against their arch rival. It’s Real Flippin’ Madrid for heaven’s sake. Then cheer for them on Tuesday and expect that the team that has accomplished so much these past few years may just happen to have the wherewithal to overturn a 1-0.

      Yes, I’m a little concerned about the upcoming games but paralyzing anxiety is gaining you nothing! What good is being a football fan if football can no longer be pleasurable to you.

      You know what happens if we fail to win either of these next two games? Nothing of consequence. We cry a little then the sun comes up the next morning and we can begin to look forward to the next game, the next season, and the next chance to harass Kxevin for his reviews 🙂 .

  7. this stuff about drogba being hurt is rubbish. they are resting him against arsenal. di matteo says he picked up a knee injury against barca, and insinuated it is because we kicked him about. seriously.

    far as i could tell, he finished the match just fine. maybe he picked up that injury from scything down messi in the 86th minute. he was fit enough to do that. what gives.

    am i the only one who thinks this, or what. i cant believe the justification for drogba’s behaviour coming from the UK, saying it serves us right.

    but like kxevin and other have already said so well, do not expect rationality in these affairs…

    1. Yeah, it’s horribly misquoted (and misleading). Edu Polo (a Spanish journo) called it out on Twitter before that story even ran.

      What Xavi really said is that Rijkaard believed in more physical football* when he arrived but he always believed in him. He’s not attacking Rijkaard (either).

      *Physical football obviously doesn’t suit a smaller, more technical player like Xavi.

  8. So, that title deciding Clasico is tomorrow.

    Just some thoughts:

    Win, lose, or draw, what matters to me is two things: 1) we play well and 2) that no one gets injured.

    There’s a lot of nerves in this one, for sure, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s a game of football, not a fight to the death on TV (as fun as it is to make it out to be, really, it isn’t. Someone tell Pepe.)

    Will this season still be a success if we don’t get favourable results in our next two games? To me, yes. Why? For a couple of reasons.

    1) Barca’s already won three trophies.

    2) Barca’s already won three trophies with this thing weighing on them:

    3)In the grand scheme of things, trophies are just the ultimate proof that things are working. A vindication. If you play great but don’t win anything for a long time, there’s a lot of doubt that creeps in and calls for radical change become nearly deafening. A long line of trophies keeps those calls at bay.

    But they’re not the most important thing. If we played 10 men behind the ball, were dirty/cynical, and sore losers, I wouldn’t be happy at all.

    Why? Because the most important thing to me is the style. I’m a fan of Barca because of the style. (And Messi, and Xavi, and Puyol, and Iniesta, and Thiago…)

    I wasn’t that upset after the Chelsea game. I thought we played a fantastic game where it was only poor finishing and some bad luck way from being a blowout. Play that game again 10 times and it would be a destruction at least half of the time. Truly a case of “you win some, you lose some”.

    We did the right things; the hard part was explaining the result.

    We played well, competed well, and I don’t ask for more (but better finishing but you can’t coach that). That could just be me; I’m pretty much at the no pasa nada stage of fandom.

    Is there disappointment? Sure. But as some wise person said: “Disappointment is inevitable, but misery is an option.”

    If we don’t win the Liga and/or CL, big freaking whoop. Congrats to the teams who do win it but beware: We’ll be back next year. If we win the Liga and CL, it just adds to the grandeur of the team. Two more trophies in the cabinet. Two more proofs of the success of the approach of this team. Two more ways to justify the philosophy.

    But we’ve already won enough to know this — the team, the philosophy, the style — is a success. A resounding success.

    “The result is an impostor in football. You can do things really, really well [and] not win. There’s something greater than the result, more lasting. A legacy.”

    – Xavi Hernandez

    1. This season will be even more succesful if we manage to beat RM in the clasico and if we do manage to get through to the CL final and RM does as well, to beat them there too, making it 3 different competitions we’ve manged to beat them in. Even if we end up losing the liga just beating them tomorrow will be good enough.

    2. Well, sure. That’d be so awesome if we did do all that. Just saying that if none of it happens, that’s okay. It’s already good enough right now. For me, anyway. It’s a question of expectation, I guess. I’m expecting nothing but hoping for everything.

      Oh, and a question of what it takes for one to be satisfied. I’m already good, any more and I’d be better, but I’m good. I’m satisfied.

      Don’t think beating (or not beating) RM will define whether the season is a success or not; we’ve already beat them this season and in the last fifteen (15) clasicos, we’ve won 10, drew 4 and lost once in extra time. That’s ridiculously epic. But that’s another discussion, methinks…

    3. You took the words right out of my mouth, ‘I’m expecting nothing but, hoping for everything’. That’s exactly how i’ve been feeling since we were 10pts behind. The fear of losing cripples most Barca fans, me being #1 to admit it. The fact that the team has already won 3 trophies this yr is always overlooked and considering the important injuries to key players and the incosistant matches, this team should be applauded coz, we are still fighting in all 3 major competitions.

    4. Please, please. The most important thing is no injuries to our players. Everything else is a bonus.

      Come to think of it, considering Mou’s infamous eye-poking, should we include the rest of the coaching staff too?

  9. As an aside: I watched Dortmund vs Bayern a couple of weeks ago and though that game was a title decider too, I was amazed by the distinct lack of cheating and general acrimony.

    There was bitter rivalry (Subotic after Robben’s penalty miss anyone?) but it wasn’t cynical.

    I was envious. Really. It’s sad that we won’t see that tomorrow or anytime soon. Or rather, that I don’t expect that it will be anything other than annoying and almost joyless.

    1. It would become an enjoyable classico again once Mou depart from Spain. 100% sure. His antics that made the recent classicos were ugly.

  10. Resurfacing since it’s…wait, it’s El Clásico!!!
    Not quite as confident (well I’m seldom confident, I guess that’s the culé in me.)
    I hope the guys aren’t too tired for this yet.. We’ve got a really lean squad I hope the fatigue won’t be much of a factor.
    We’re comin into this not as favorite, but that’s fine with me. I hope, really hope we win though. I want pep and the players to be happy again coz i think i they’ve suffered enough catching up with the ten-point deficit in the liga and with losing the first tie in CL…hopefully winning the eClásico will put some smiles back in their faces and prevent more hair loss from pep.(I just want happy, smiling Xavi at the end of the match really.) 😉

    The pessimist culé in me is scared by default but I know this team can do anything. So, let’s finish those chances this time kids okay?
    Oh, and could Isaac play?
    It’s El Clásico time!! Visca Barça!

  11. Reports are coming out of Spain that Mourinho has renewed through 2014, for more money/control. Started with EMD, but now being picked up by legitimate sources. After the Guardiola comments about not enjoying the recent Clasics, I hate to think that the toxic atmosphere spawned by a rival coach could shorten his tenure, but you never know.

  12. off topic
    Mr. Bad: “I think I will retire between the age of 65 and 70, and the only thing I hope is to be proud of my career. Football will continue to be a part of my life until the day I retire. I will not be one of those persons who stop playing or coaching, but who cannot live a peaceful life without criticising or commenting on things.”

    guess he was referring to Johan Cryuff

    1. In other words, he won’t stop playing or coaching; the alternative — to refrain from criticizing or commenting on things — doesn’t seem like a realistic goal for him.

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