There isn’t a more exhaustive match in the world than El Clasico — it consistently provides high-stakes, supercharged emotions and scintillating football from the world’s best players. It also has the distinction of pitting two clubs that loath one another in a physical, no-holds-barred and often controversial battle between international teammates.
Spain rely so heavily on drawing players from these two club that there’s always that boiling subplot to analyze and critique, especially as we approach another World Cup year.
A glance at recent Spanish call ups shows Barcelona supplying Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Sergi Roberto, Denis Suarez and Paco Alcacer. Meanwhile, Real Madrid have had Sergio Ramos, Nacho, Dani Carvajal, Isco, Alvaro Morata, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez wear the colors of La Roja.
When you see the captain of Real Madrid and the Spanish national team, Ramos, quarreling for a week straight with his international defensive partner, Pique, you can’t help but wonder what kind of ill effect that might have on a qualifying campaign that’s been running so smoothly for the Spanish.
After exchanging barbs over perceived refereeing favors for the opposing side in the buildup to Sunday’s El Clasico, Ramos was given a straight red in the 78th minute for his two-footed lunge on Lionel Messi.
As Ramos left the pitch, he seemed to launch a torrent of abuse at Pique, incensed in his belief that the Barcelona man’s pregame chatter how somehow swayed the referee.
Ramos appeared to be telling Pique to talk there and now (on the pitch) rather than resort to the press or his own social media accounts, but Pique was still drawn into a comment about the Spanish captain after the match.
“I am sure when he gets home he will realize it was a red card,” said Pique. “It was clear: he went in with both feet off the ground, nowhere near the ball. There’s no argument. What happens is that [Madrid] are used to having very permissive referees here and when there isn’t one, that’s how they react.
“I didn’t hear him, I saw that he was pointing at me, I suppose he was referring to the red card. When he gets home and sees the replay he will regret [his reaction], because it’s a clear dismissal. It’s a straight red card.”
Ramos spoke with reporters in the mixed zone after Pique, but he was by no means apologetic. “I wasn’t recriminating the referee for anything, no. I was talking to Pique, not to the referee,” he said. “Sometimes referees get things right, other times they don’t. It was a key moment. But my reaction was to Pique, not the referee.
“[Barcelona] have a way of understanding football and they always talk about the referees and maybe that ends up bearing results. We’re not going to talk about the referees, though, that’s not our style. It’s not our sport. I wasn’t directing [gestures] at the referee, but at Pique, who is the one who always likes to talk about the referees.
“Permissive [refereeing] was their game against PSG. Pique likes to talk about referees. I said to him [when leaving the pitch] that with so much pressure and complaining in every tweet, it’s going to end up having an effect.”
One might maintain that both Real Madrid and Barcelona get the rub of the green when it comes to refereeing decisions; a case of the pot calling the kettle black, and you'd be right in that assessment. But this isn't a line of thought that will enamor either Ramos or Pique.
They've both defended their club actions, and, prior to Sunday, both have maintained that they enjoy a good relationship when it comes to playing for Spain. The reasons behind their animosity are certainly not as venomous as those that divided, say, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry with England, but you’d have to go back to the antagonistic period of Jose Mourinho’s Real tenure to find similar levels of bad blood between the clubs.
We’ve seen remarkably similar scenes before. In 2010, Ramos was sent off for a reckless challenge on Messi at the end of Madrid’s 5-0 defeat at the Camp Nou. While leaving the pitch, Ramos grabbed the throat of Carles Puyol.
Pique has long made provocative comments with regards to the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry, and we’ve seen rough challenges from the likes of Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa and Sergio Busquets.
While the likes of Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Puyol and Xabi Alonso had long served as mediaries between the two sides, this spat between Ramos and Pique simply will not go away — if anything, it's reached a new low.