In need of some stardust

Mariano scored Real's second against Barcelona on Sunday.
Mariano scored Real's second against Barcelona on Sunday. / EFE
  • The weekend's Clásico highlighted how far Spain's big two have fallen in terms of attracting the world's biggest talents

For decades El Clásico was a showcase of the greatest footballers on the planet; now it's in danger of just becoming another game of first-class football.

Every year since 1996, the FIFA World Player of the Year played for La Liga's big two or went on to play for Real Madrid. You can name them all; everyone can. The best of a generation took to the Spanish stage: Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Rivaldo, Luis Figo, Ronaldinho, Fabio Cannavaro and Kaká have all exhibited their talents for Barcelona or Real Madrid. For the past decade-and-a-half, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo battled for the crown.

Even those who were never anointed as the best in the world - David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Davor Šuker - were signed by Real and Barça.

England's two most decorated players in modern times, Steve McManaman and Michael Owen were also enlisted by Real Madrid. They always took part in the annual trawl for the most desirable footballers in the world.

So, something has gone wrong when the strike forces in the 243rd edition ended up being led by Mariano Díaz and Martin Braithwaite.

There's always been the 'water carriers', as Eric Cantona once described them, but now there's more squad players than superstars in the Clásico.

Granted, Lionel Messi, the best player in world, is still the central attraction - but the very best of the rest are playing elsewhere.

Cristiano Ronaldo has just been on a run where he scored 16 goals in 11 games for Juventus; Kylian Mbappé is tied to Paris Saint Germain alongside Neymar; and the most promising young player Erling Braut Haaland chose to further his career in Germany. It could be argued that the best Spanish footballer is David Silva and he's been strutting his stuff in the Premier League for his peak years.

Sensing the need for a superstar, the Spanish sports papers claimed the starting gun had been fired this week for the signing of Neymar. Hopefully we don't go through another speculation-filled summer when very little happened. That said, it's blatantly obvious that La Liga needs some stardust.

The clubs tried to follow the trend of investing in the unproven 'next big thing' but the likes of Ousmane Dembélé and Vinícius Júnior haven't yet flourished as hoped. A top footballer is like a top car, it needs a few miles on the clock before the engine is properly run in.

The two presidents need to get the cheque books out and invest in the next 'galácticos'. Haaland must surely end up at Barcelona or Real, Raheem Sterling seems to have laid the foundations for a move to Spain with his bizarre recent interview and Neymar seems intent on leaving Paris for his old party city.

They need to start shopping at Harrods again and forget trying to pick up bargains at Primark. The product is suffering.