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A LOOK AT LA LIGA

The greatest show on Earth?

Most eyes were on the off-field spectacle at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night.
Most eyes were on the off-field spectacle at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night. / Reuters
  • The Clásico is still like nothing else in football. It's a carnival, an outpouring of emotion and this year it was a political rally. Sadly, the football didn't match the sensational surroundings on Wednesday

It used to be like the world's greatest fashion show when a new vogue would be unveiled, and the globe's 'Galácticos' would strut their stuff.

Don't get me wrong, 'El Gran Clásico' is still one of the greatest sporting sights, but it appears to have lost some sparkle.

When I attended my first Barcelona versus Real Madrid match in 1996, Bobby Robson looked up to the sky, which was obscured by fans, and said: "Can you believe it? Ninety-eight thousand people, the size of a small town, all crammed in here." He smirked and added: "And at full-time tonight they'll all be calling for my head if we don't win!"

Back then, and pretty much every year since, it has been a collection of the world's greatest talents all brought together on one catwalk. Now, however, I suspect the allure has worn off and they are no longer the 'must haves'.

When Sir Bobby was in charge, he sent out the original Ronaldo for his first Clásico alongside Luis Figo, Laurent Blanc and Pep Guardiola to face Roberto Carlos, Clarence Seedorf and Davor Šuker. It was a clash of the gladiators. A meeting of the trend-setters.

After this edition, a scoreless draw, the discussion points weren't the performances of outstanding individuals expressing themselves; it was about VAR and goalline clearances. There was a dissatisfied hum as the players left the pitch.

Lionel Messi is still the world's greatest player but he's also a bit vintage at this stage. The most desired footballers are now sprinkled around the world. The best forward line and centre-back are all on Liverpool's payroll; Neymar couldn't be re-enrolled and Kylian Mbappé is resident in Paris.

Over the years we've had the Ronaldos, Figo, David Beckham, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta as the star attractions. Now, both clubs are lacking stardust.

Nil-nil said it all. It was a purely functional game of football. No player stood out, no player had a nightmare; it was all very average, everyone got a seven out of ten. The most prominent players were Gerard Piqué for Barça and Isco for Real Madrid. Both have been around for seasons.

But it hasn't reached this middling status overnight. The clubs have tried to recruit 'the next big thing'. Alas, Philippe Coutinho never worked out, Ousmane Dembélé hasn't flourished and we are waiting to see what Rodrygo is about. Maybe the malaise goes back to signing James Rodríguez and Gareth Bale who never elevated themselves from international class to world class.

I don't want to come over as all "... it was better back in the day", as I'm sure the future will be bright. Maybe Neymar will return, one of the clubs will break the bank for Mbappé or Ansu Fati will prove to be the next big thing.

Don't let me put you off, the Clásico is still like nothing else in football. It's a carnival, an outpouring of emotion and this year it was a political rally. The colour, passion and verve are quite spectacular. Sadly, the football on the pitch didn't match the sensational surroundings.