MADRID, Spain (AFP) — “The Clasico is still the Clasico,” said La Liga president Javier Tebas.
“For the league it’s another match but for intrigue and international appeal, it’s the two biggest clubs in the world going face to face. It’s still the most important club game in the world.”
On Saturday, Barcelona and Real Madrid go face to face in the biggest football stadium in the world too, but almost all of the 99,000 seats at Camp Nou will be empty.
In sporting terms, it would be hard to find a more dramatic event reduced so dramatically, as clear a demonstration as there could be of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Any football match without fans loses a fundamental part of the game,” Tebas said in an exclusive interview with AFP.
“But we’ve had more than 300 games played without fans and we’ve seen the players still provide a spectacle on the pitch. In fact the television numbers prove it. People are still watching.”
La Liga usually estimates a potential Clasico audience of 650 million worldwide and predicts greater numbers this weekend, given other sports in many countries remain suspended.
“Only the 70,000 who should be in the stadium will be missing,” Tebas said.
Yet it is those fans that bring emotion and meaning, with their absence perhaps felt even more keenly at a time when the allure of these teams on the pitch is not what it once was.
The decline began before the crisis but it has also been exacerbated by it.
The transfer window was an exercise in cutting costs as Madrid went without a single new signing for the first time in 40 years and although Barca bought, they were more desperate to sell, allowing Luis Suarez to join title rivals Atletico Madrid.
“They showed good judgement,” Tebas said.
“With the lack of income it would be crazy if they were buying at the same level as before.”
Lionel Messi remains the crown jewel for the Clasico and La Liga, and it was no surprise when the Spanish league sided with Barcelona in the dispute over his contract in August.
“We’ve been lucky to enjoy him for so many years but Messi should think very carefully about what he does next,” Tebas said.