A Clásico 'light'

FIFA World Player of the Year, Luka Modric.
FIFA World Player of the Year, Luka Modric. / REUTERS

  • For the first time in years, the meeting of Barcelona and Real Madrid will see no real superstars on show, neither on the field nor in the dugout

It's a sign of the times when it's Clásico weekend and there won't be a parade of Galácticos.

Lionel Messi will be watching from the stands, Cristiano Ronaldo via satellite in Italy and the heirs to the throne of world football are lording it in Paris.

Every year since 1995, the best player in the world has been on centre stage. Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo, Ronaldinho, Cannavaro, Cristiano and Messi. Of course Luka Modric is the FIFA World Player of the Year and he deserves the title but it sums up the lack of stardust sprinkled around the Camp Nou this year.

Even on the sidelines we've had headline acts. Pep Guardiola, Frank Rijkaard, José Mourinho and Zinedine Zidane. Ernesto Valverde versus Julen Lopetegui doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

I saw one outlet billing it as Modric against Philippe Coutinho. I think they need to have a word with their marketing men.

In the boardrooms of both clubs they've taken their eye off the ball. Barcelona allowed Neymar to head to Paris Saint Germain when they should have been working on a way to tie him to the club for the next decade.

In France he partners Kylian Mbappé who is the next natural superstar of global football and therefore unwritten football law dictates that Real Madrid should have first dabs on him.

Don't get me wrong there is still an array of world class talent and the game has glamour and intrigue. It's just missing the X Factor.

It will prove to be the pivotal game for Julen Lopetegui. The club have given him at least one Clásico to add to the CV that took a dramatic turn when he vacated the Spain job on the eve of the World Cup finals. There are parallels to Rafa Benítez who suffered a similarly miserable start to life as the Real Madrid manager.

With Rafa we could all see the issue. He was selecting players based on market value. It eventually backfired, he departed and Zidane decided to pick a team on merit and balance rather than shirt sales.

I'm not so sure that there is a simple solution for Lopetegui. He looks a broken man on the touchline. In his career he was a back-up goalkeeper who could slip into a successful side and that was mirrored when he managed Spain. Keep it simple, bark a few instructions and follow the work of the number one you are replacing.

As boss at the Bernabéu he is like a goalkeeper out of his area with the ball on his wrong foot. It's uncomfortable to watch.

In these pages I've often emphasised how great a manager Zidane was. He handled superstar egos, a dictatorial president, expectant fans and a demanding press yet made it look so easy.

I suspect it will be close to the swansong for Lopetegui whatever the result. The club needs a bigger character. The two clubs need to recruit the next generation of superstars.

Some may say I'm affected because it's the first year the Clásico hasn't been aired on television in the UK in 22 years. I will be getting my commentary fix though with Unibet so I urge you to download the app or tune in via the website. This is the modern age.

Alas it's the modern age where Coutinho v Modric doesn't quite have the same ring as Messi v Ronaldo!