I have decided to take the classic English "route one" path instead of the intricate tiki-taka of Barçajax school. What I mean is that I am going to directly to the subject of the post instead of a bad detour or a roundabout prologue as is my wont.

If you rack your brains it is intuitively obvious to the casual observer that the title means "3 memorable El Clásico red cards". I always tell my friends that you can expect a couple of 3 things in an El Clásico.
  • Goals: There has been just 1 scoreless draw in more than 25 years.
  • A small mob hounding the referee for the slightest of fouls.
  • A near guarantee of a tarjeta roja aka a red card.

We remember memorable red cards. Jens Lehmann in Paris, Stevie-G’s 43 second cameo at Old Trafford, Maradona vs Brazil in 1982 and probably the most famous of them all: Zizou’s headbutt. They are probably as memorable as Zizou in Paris, Maradona in Azteca, Stevie-G in Istanbul. So without further adieu here are tres memorables El Clásico tarjetas rojas.

1) Luis Figo at Santiago Bernabeu – 2003/04

Luis Figo was a legend at Camp Nou. He was one of the last signings of Johan Cruijff that really worked out. He even supported Catalan nationalism. That Barcelona fans adored him was an understatement. In came Florentino with a Kerry “Every whore has her price name yours” Packeresque attitude and announced he was going to prise the Portuguese superstar if he won the presidential elections. He won and did. Although his time at Bernabeu pales in comparison to Camp Nou, he had a successful time nonetheless.

In the first Clásico that season, Real Madrid had won at Camp Nou for the first time in 19 years. Madrid were blowing away every team earlier in the season but were now, thanks to hindsight, just beginning their free fall. Barcelona had had a terrible start to the season but with the arrival of Davids and a fully fit Ronaldinho roared back into the title race. After a tight first half in which Madrid were the better team, they absolutely battered Barcelona in the 2nd half and took an early lead when the elegant Santi Solari bludgeoned the ball into the net through a sea of claret & blue shirts.

Barcelona almost immediately hit back through a Made in Holland goal. Cocu’s long ball found Van Bronckhorst and he lobbed Casillas. Kluivert got to the ball before Helguera could and scored with virtually his first touch after coming on for Saviola. Barcelona started to grow into the game and were starting to frustrate the home team. After 3/4ths of the game, the former Culé capitan and future Culé capitan that magnificent dread-locked bastard went in for a 50-50 ball. Figo, already booked in the 1st half, went for it with an open boot and was duly ordered to march. His protestations fell on deaf ears. The match was settled with an exquisite piece of skill by that buck toothed magician.

A memorable evening settled by the most memorable of goals. Real Madrid’s season went from bad to worse as they would lose all of their remaining matches in La Liga and ended the season without any silverware. It was the beginning of the end of the Galactico era. Barcelona went from strength to strength and began an era of success that made the Dream Team era look like a drought.

2) Oleguer at Camp Nou – 2006/07

Oleguer Presas. Catalan. Graduate. Activist. Leftist. Footballer. Note that footballer comes last. Oleguer became first choice right back after Michael Reiziger left in 2004. He was a barely pedestrian footballer who, in my opinion, played simply because he was Catalan. That he is still known better for activism than his playing career sums it up. It still boggles my mind that Oleguer made nearly 100 appearances for Barcelona even though they had Belletti and later Zambrotta for those three seasons.

Barcelona were in a tizzy in the weeks before the big game. They had to overturn a home defeat to Real Zaragoza in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. They were beaten by title rivals Sevilla and Valencia away from home. The most devastating defeat was the pyrrhic victory in Merseyside that dumped the defending champions out of Europe a mere four days before this fixture.

The visitors came running out of the blocks when Ruud Van Nistelrooij punished Thuram’s error to put the Merengues 1-0 up after just 5 minutes. Barcelona immediately leveled through Lionel Messi’s 1st of his Clásico leading 21 goals so far. In virtually Madrid’s next raid on the Barcelona goal, Oleguer brought down the mercurial Guti in the box and earned himself a tarjeta amarilla and Nistelrooij scored his 2nd from the spot. Messi matched Nistelrooij’s tally in the game to make it a breathless opening 30 minutes.

On the stroke of half time came another Oleguer brain fart. He brought down Gago on the right side at the half way line unnecessarily. This earned him his 2nd booking and referee sent him off and blew for half time almost simultaneously. An already hard fixture made much harder. Sergio Ramos, then known for being skinned by Ronaldinho in Madrid, gave Los Merengues the lead from a set piece. The 5 point lead was suddenly down to 2.

Time was running out for Barcelona but then came the moment that transformed the boy into a man. Messi had already showed he’s made of strong stuff in his El Clásico debut which was also Ronaldinho’s standing ovation match. He also made Chelsea look like amateurs at Stamford Bridge but he never had a signature performance like this. Ronaldinho held off tight attention from Salgado and found Messi surrounded by 3 men. His first touch eliminated two of them and skipped the challenge from the 3rd to shoot past a sliding Ramos to make it 3-3. A pulsating game ended a couple of minutes later with no change to the scoreline. Barcelona would subsequently lose a 5-2 lead in the Copa. They would also lose the Liga in 18 seconds.

3) Pepe at Santiago Bernabeu – 2010/11

According to Graham Hunter’s book, when the Barcelona players returned after the world cup (many of the who won it) they were hungrier than ever for trophies. Many firmly believe that FCB were denied the chance to become the first team to defend the Champions League/European Cup in 20 years because of that Icelandic volcano. The Ibrahimovic Plan B experiment was hindering Plan A so Barça got rid of the Swede and brought in David "El Guaje" Villa.

Messi in a "false nine" was meticulously tinkered to perfection by Pep Guardiola since the 2009 Champions league final. The acme of this system was without a doubt the 5-0 win in Camp Nou in Jose Mourinho’s debut Clásico. Messi did not score but had two assists and was just magnificent. The "Special One" was a quick learner. He quickly identified that the Messi-Xavi-Iniesta nexus needs to be broken and decided to use a triple pivot of Khedira-Pepe-Alonso. Alonso the deep lying playmaker, Khedira the runner and Pepe as the destroyer who would follow Messi everywhere.

The draw for the Champions League meant there would be 4 Los Clásicos in 18 days. The first one in the league, the second being the Copa final and the last being the 2 legged European tie. The triple pivot experiment seemed to work as the Liga match ended 1-1  thanks to a penalty each by Messi and Cristiano. It was deemed successful as Real Madrid prevented Barça’s 2nd treble in 3 seasons by winning the Copa del Rey through a towering header from Cristiano.

All the while Mourinho, with his us vs the world shtick, kept ranting to the press and Guardiola was apparently prevented from responding by the Barcelona board. A pent up Guardiola couldn't hold it as he went on a 45 minute rant that apparently fired up the Barcelona jugadors. The game was a cagey affair. Pepe stuck to Messi like a fly on sandpaper. He kept La Pulga quiet by means fair and foul. The lenience of the referee irked the Barça bench so much that the backup goalie Pinto was sent off.

The ill-tempered affair had seen 4 yellow cards (2 to each team) and a bench sending off within the hour. A minute after the hour mark, Pepe went for a ball that Dani Alves was favoured to get to. He mistimed his challenge and Alves won the ball. Unfortunately, he went with an open boot and took out Alves hitting the Brazilian on possibly the most painful spot on the leg, the shin. The referee immediately gave the Brazilian born Portuguese defender his marching orders. Mourinho's protestations from the bench was rewarded with a blood coloured card.

Freed from the constant attention, Messi scored twice in the last quarter of an hour. The 2nd one a magnificent solo run beating 3 players. Without the services of Pepe and Mourinho, Madrid could not overturn a 2 goal deficit as Barcelona reached the final in Wembley. They completed a third league/champions league double to end the season which led many to believe the team to be the greatest of all time.

Honourable Mention: Sergio Ramos at Camp Nou 2010/11 & Santiago Bernabeu 2013/14 & Santiago Bernabeu 2016/17

Sergio Ramos. ‘Nuff Said.


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