When Marca, the daily Spanish football paper, claimed that the El Classico game to be played on 10th April between Real Madrid and Barcelona is the game of the Millenium it may have been guilty of slight hyperbole but in truth it is indeed the most eagerly awaited game of this first century of the third millennium.

As the GGW article “Right is Might” showed, Real Madrid and Barcelona are the two richest clubs in the world. Barcelona are the current World Club Champions as well as the reigning Spanish Champions. The new Real Madrid President Florentino Perez who in his previous reign took Real Madrid to Champions League glory determined on his election in June 2009 that he would restore Real Madrid to their rightful place as the number one club in the world. He backed that desire up with over 250 million euros as he recruited world class stars like Cristiano Ronaldo., Kaka, Benzema and Xabi Alonso, as well as Spanish internationalists Albiol and Arbeloa and the promising Granero. He brought in a new Manager, Manuel Pellegrini, who had been successful in 5 years at Villarreal in turning that small town club into one of the top ranked and most entertaining teams in Europe.

Perez expected this massive investment to put an end to Barcelona’s dominance in Spain and Europe. He already knows that his dream of winning the Decima, the 10th European Cup of Real Madrid, in their own stadium the Santiago Bernabeu on 2nd May 2010 has been thwarted with Real Madrid eliminated by a determined but hardly outstanding Lyon side. Incredibly it was the 6th year in a row that the world’s mightiest club, or at least its richest, had been eliminated in the first knockout round of the Champions League. His club were also humiliated in the Spanish Cup by a third division team, 4-0 away from home, so all that is left to win this season is La Liga.

Across Spain more people will be supporting Real Madrid than Barcelona in this Clasico clash. In the most reliable of the several estimates of Real Madrid support in Spain they would appear to have over 13million Spanish fans to the 10 million of Barcelona.

However outwith Spain, and remember it is estimated that the game will be broadcast live to around 180 countries in the world, the balance of support will be strongly tipped the other way in favour of Barcelona.

GGW research has established beyond doubt that around 99% of Celtic supporters will be hoping not only that Barcelona win but that despised Real Madrid are once again humiliated like they were last season. Incidentally Spanish bookmakers are offering 140-1 against a repeat of last year’s 6-2 victory by Barcelona and have Madrid as narrow favourites to win. The shortest score bet is a 1-1 draw.

GGW would like to offer 4 reasons why Celtic supporters should suspend their normal animosity for Saturday’s game. The purpose of this post is not to try to persuade Celtic supporters to transfer their allegiance even temporarily to Real Madrid. Any such attempt would ensure even Canute would drown. There are many political, social and cultural reasons why Celtic supporters will always prefer Barca to Real and that is a healthy and natural state of affairs.  Rather it is to argue for a slightly more tolerant attitude from Barca supporting Celts on this one occasion to hope that on the day the better team prevails and that if that team should wear white then it would not be an absolute disaster.

The first reason is that the normal line ‘Real Madrid, – they are all a bunch of fascist b******s’ is a ludicrous, gross and unsophisticated oversimplification. As is the equating of Barcelona with benign radical nationalism.

It is undeniable that Real Madrid have always been the club of the Madrid (and therefore prevailing Spanish) power elites and the three main strands (Royalty, Church, Falangists) of the Fascist state were all firmly in the white Madrid camp. Even post Franco, the prevailing Madrid power elites have continued to be solidly loyal to the club in white. However they are also the club of millions of working class left voting Spaniards. Hundreds of thousands of Real Madrid fans fought and suffered for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Indeed during most of the Civil War the suffering of the Madrid masses was probably even greater than of the population in Barcelona. The total identification of the ruling power elites with Real Madrid will always mean that the club will not attract from Celtic supporters the emotional commitment and sympathy that most other clubs can generate but that should not be confused with a blanket hating of all their supporters. That would be as ludicrous as condemning all Celtic supporters because the current club chairman is portrayed as a bloody-handed warmonger.

The second reason is that there is always a strong emotional bond with Real Madrid in Scotland because of their 1960 Hampden European Cup Final performance. In what is often regarded as the best game of football ever played, they enchanted not just all Scotland but the whole continent of Europe with the quality and magic of their football as they outclassed Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 to clinch the European Cup for a 5th successive year. For several generations of Celtic supporters that performance set a standard of excellence and European club performance that will always be strived for but has never yet been emulated.

The third reason has been that they have continued to field some of the greatest footballers ever. The golden generation of Di Stefano and Puskas, Del Sol and Ghento has been replaced by a succession of world superstars. The team that won the Champions League again, in Glasgow in 2002, contained stars like Zidane and Figo, Raul and Roberto Carlos, Hierro and Makalele. How can any lover of football not rejoice in the triumph of such talent? Today’s squad contains Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, two of the world’s finest players, as well as world class stars like Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Xabi Alonso, Raul and Higuain. While it is true that Barca have a far better record than Real of grooming their own talent, it should not be forgotten that they too are also a buying club and in the summer of 2009 spent more on new players, like Ibrahimovic, Chygrinsky and Maxwell than the total annual budget of Celtic.

These three reasons for not being aggressively negative about Real Madrid have been around for a long time and have had little impact on most Celtic supporters.

The fourth reason is more complex and Machiavellian, and has to do with the Real Madrid manager Manuel Pellegrini. Pellegrini will be familiar to Celtic supporters as the manager who took Villarreal to the Semi-Finals of the Champions League in 2006 and Quarter-Finals in 2009 and to 2nd place in La Liga in 2008. By May 2009 Villarreal were ranked 12th strongest club in Europe, ahead of Real Madrid. What might be less familiar might be his record as a Manager in South America, with 4 championships in 3 different countries, and 2 South American club trophies.

It was no great surprise that this outstanding record in club management resulted in him being taken from Villarreal by Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 to manage their assault on Barcelona domination of Spain and Europe. Yet Pellegrini has never enjoyed the full confidence of Florentino Perez and his inner circle. He was not in Perez’s top 3 choices for the job and was accepted by him rather reluctantly under pressure from fellow South American Jorge Valdano, the club Director General. When Real Madrid were humiliated 4-0 in the Copa Del Rey by third level Alcorcoran it seemed that Pellegrini might even be sacked. He survived, with Valdano’s support, but ever since then sources close to the President  have waged a briefing campaign against him supported enthusiastically by the local press, especially Marca. Literally every day there is a least one article attacking some aspect of Pellegrini’s performance and reiterating that he is not good enough to be the Real Madrid manager. The one thing that might have saved his job for next season, outstanding victory in the Champions League Final was removed with the loss to Lyon. Now Pellegrini is football management’s equivalent of a dead man walking. Even victory on Saturday in the Clasico and the winning of the Spanish League title will not save him. GGW readers should prepare themselves for the inevitable sacking of Pellegrini no later than this coming summer.

Pellegrini has dealt with these realities with his usual calm dignity and decency. He has dedicated himself to the task of converting a collection of disparate footballers into an effective team and has been remarkably successful in doing so. The performance of Real Madrid in the Spanish League this season has been magnificent. His Real Madrid team recently broke an old Spanish record by scoring 3 goals or more in 10 consecutive La Liga games. They have won every home league game. They are on course easily to score over 100 goals this League season, perhaps even to break the John Toshack team record of 107. They have matched the world’s best team Barcelona stride for stride week for week and enter the Clasico as League leaders. But all this success has not saved Pellegrini, nor will continued triumph.  However, even though he is correct, Pellegrini has made a tactical mistake in attempting to prove statistically that his team are the most successful Real Madrid side of the last 20 La Liga seasons. That response has just been used as “proof” that he is not of big enough stature for the job

Having followed in close detail both the broad sweeps and the daily minutiae of Pellegrini’s time at Real Madrid, GGW is clear that the basic objection of the Florentinistas and their supporters in the tame press to Pellegrini is that he is not of sufficient quality material to be a worthy manager of Real Madrid. The never articulated but occasionally hinted at subtext to this unworthiness, perhaps subconsciously felt, being that this is because he is South American.

If Barcelona win the Clasico on merit and go on to win the league the decision to sack Pellegrini could be seen as justified. Perhaps a little harsh but the richest club in the world has the right to demand the highest standards. However if Real Madrid win the Clasico on merit and go on to win the League, then the sacking of Pellegrini would  be clear proof that Madrid club are indeed the ogres that most Celtic supporters currently claim.

This is case for the argument that true lovers of football should want the best game in the world, between the two best teams in the world, to be decided on merit and not on accumulated bias. That Pellegrini deserves the chance to show he is indeed one of the best managers the world, capable of leading his team to triumph over the best team in the world over a league campaign. If he succeeds all Celtic fans should welcome the vindication of a man who has already given them much satisfaction with his work with Villarreal. And if he does this, and is still sacked by Real Madrid, as he will be, then hell mend them.

Interestingly Real Madrid supporters are much more positive about Pellegrini than is their President and his cronies. In a recent poll, asked if they wanted him to remain in charge for 2010-11, nearly 3 in 4 Real supporters voted Yes. Another poll, asking the slightly different question of who they wanted to see as Real manager next season, provided the answer that Pellegrini was the most popular choice with 34%, well ahead of other quoted rivals like Mourinho, Michael Laudrup, Wenger or Michel.

As for the game itself it is finely balanced. Not only are they the two richest clubs in the world they are also the two best teams in the world. Either could win this game. GGW believes that the most likely outcome is a Real Madrid victory. While a draw would restore league leadership to Barca, because of the Spanish use of head to head results rather than goal difference in the event of a points tie, Guardiola’s team will not play for a draw but try to win. The sweetness of a Real Madrid victory followed by triumph in La Liga will be soured slightly on 22nd May when Barcelona are likely to retain the Champions League in Real’s home stadium.

Barcelona are the best team in the world, capable of playing the best football so while it would be a triumph of major magnitude for Pellegrini if his team can win the Clasico and go on to take La Liga, no-one should be surprised if the result is a draw or a Barcelona victory. The GGW Editor survives in Spain by betting based on his extensive knowledge of European and World football, which GGW will share with its readers. GGW successfully tipped all 4 Champions League semi-final qualifiers, an accumulator that paid 45-1. However El Clasico is not a game to bet on, so open is it. GGW supports Pellegrini rather than Real Madrid and hopes he is good enough to triumph but will not be putting any money on the outcome.

Another issue at stake is the title of ‘best player in the world’. Many of the pundits who have rushed to acclaim Messi as such after the Arsenal game well look a little silly if Cristiano Ronaldo imposes himself on Saturday with Messi quiet. But the reality, well known to GGW, is that they are jointly the two best players in the world, a whole class above other candidates like Rooney, Kaka and Ribery. Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi are different kinds of players so straightforward comparison is difficult but together they both regularly attain a level of performance beyond any others, levels which entitle them not only to seen as the best current players but to give them entry into that pantheon of all-time greats. The top places in that list are occupied, in chronological order, by Di Stefano, Pele and Maradona, all South Americans followed by their closest European pursuers Cruyff, Platini and Zidane. Others like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho Figo and Rivaldo would probably make up a Top Ten but Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi will definitely knock two of those out of that frame.

A note of caution for both the current duo about their chances of crashing the Top Five ever list. Pele and Maradona both won the World Cup; Di Stefano won numerous European Cups; Zidane took France to two World Cup Finals; Cruyff Holland to one. Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi probably have 3 World Cups left to them but it will require success at that level to challenge the current top 3 in the all-time list. GGW already has its money on Messi on doing exactly that in South Africa this summer.

El Classico has been eagerly anticipated for 9 months. GGW hopes that it lives up to that level of anticipation and that the two best teams in the world produce a classic worthy of their talents, and that best team on the day gets its just reward.