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Messi walks like an Egyptian


WORLD SUMMIT: Barcelona's Lionel Messi (L) shakes hands with Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of the Copa del Rey clash in Jan 2012

Princes and heirs from faraway lands, ministers from every country, actors, celebrities, politicians, businessmen and a long 'etcetera' of presumed powerful personalities have bombarded anyone and everyone at Barcelona in the hope of getting hold of one of the 99, 354 seats at the Camp Nou for this Saturday's clash with Real Madrid, the Clasico which will beat all records, " says an article in Spain's popular Mundo Deportivo publication.

The article goes on to assert that the index of requests, whether for media accreditation, TV live broadcasts, or simply fans wishing to purchase tickets is unsurpassed, and that an entire 'second' Camp Nou could be filled with the excess demand alone.
The producers of the event, MEDIAPRO say, "Over 400 million people are expected to watch the match live, " making the match between Barca and Real Madrid one of the most watched events ever, not just sporting event. No other football match between teams from the same country awakens such huge international interest. A record number of requests to beam the match live and an unprecendented number of media accreditation requests, and this together with the technological infrastructure that is being outlayed, put this fixture on a par with the NBA finals, even, a World Cup final. "Interest has been increasing, especially in places such as the USA, the Middle East and Asia. As a curiosity, we highlight countries as diverse and distant as the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iceland, " the producers noted.

Children in primary schools in rural Argentina discuss line-ups with informed detail, while professional commentators weigh out the merits of Guardiola's stylish passing game versus the more defensive strategies of Mourinho's team. Fans in England plan viewing parties, and perhaps even in India there will be a division among those who adore Messi and those who instead prefer Ronaldo.

The yin and yang qualities of each side, each manager, and the long histories and traditions of each team contribute to load the clash with meaning, but why the whole world should be so increasingly focused on a Spanish domestic game is worth pondering.

Jorge Valdano, one time director of football of Real Madrid, who has also been emblematic as a player and manager for the side, explains it thus: "Real Madrid and Barcelona are the two best teams in the world, by a considerable margin. This is a collective truth, because the squads of each club are incomparable if we measure them against any other squad in the world right now, and also without comparison measured against any other squad of either club - Barcelona or Real Madrid - at any other point in time".

"The fact that each team has one of the two best players in the world, and journalism's need to individualise success and failure, we find an extraordinary focus for the media. What's more, both teams play well in distinctly different systems. Madrid has tactical strength, physical strength and more goal than play. Barca has great individual technique and great collective talent. Both have a common characteristic: competitive pride. So all this together, with the conflict proposed by two manager with opposing sensibilities, the fight for world hegemony. . . all this contributed to make an explosive cocktail. "

Valdano sees the phenomena as representative of the times we live in: "It's incredible how this rivalry which used to be contained within Spain has branched out to the whole world. The issue of remote identities is a fascinating one to look at with this fixture as a starting point;it's perfectly possible that in Indonesia, El Salvador or Cameroon someone with the Madrid strip has a confrontation with another who wears the Bara colours. It's also probable neither one will have ever set foot in Spain. It's yet another unlikely consequence of this which we call globalisation".

The marketing phenomena of hero worship beyond frontiers is one that the football industry has been banking on for a long time. Real Madrid itself pioneered the concept of galactic players late last millennium, building up a squad which would excel on the pitch, but with the added advantage of covering the globe in terms of player identification. At the time, the novelty was the emerging phenomena of loyalty to the player rather than club or country: kids the world over would simply shift shirts as the player moved on.

Recently I heard of an eminent executive from an international organisation with no knowledge of football visiting Northern Africa - the woman asked if there was an Egyptian player by the name of Messi who was particularly good. "Messi is not from Egypt!" was the outraged reply, but she had assumed as much because "all the children in Egypt are wearing shirts with Messi written on the back".

The marketing machine has established Lionel and Cristiano Ronaldo not just as leading scorers on the pitch in Spain's domestic quest for supremacy, but also round the globe. Barcelona's defeat at Stamford Bridge and Real's loss to Bayern earlier this week notwithstanding, we, the observers, choose to devote unparalleled attention to these two giants.

As the Superclásico kicks off, princes and heirs from faraway lands, ministers from every country, actors, celebrities, politicians, and businessmen will be watching. And and a long 'etcetera' of ordinary folk will be watching with them.

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