El Clasico: Barcelona say farewell to Cruyff... and Cristiano Ronaldo
As Barca salute the inventor of total football, can Real Madrid get one last hurrah from their great individualist?
Barcelona face Real Madrid in El Clasico on Saturday, with both clubs bidding farewell to icons.
For Barcelona it will offer the opportunity to remember Johan Cruyff. Fittingly the biggest club match in world football will be the first to be staged at the Camp Nou since his death last week at the age of 68.
The Dutch master was both player and manager at Barcelona and guided the Catalan club to its first ever European Cup triumph in 1992 while laying the foundations of its famous brand of passing football and current dominance.
Barcelona will wear special shirts emblazoned with the message 'Gracies Johan' and before the match the slogan will also be displayed by supporters in the ground. A minute's silence and a video of Cruyff's best moments will be played prior to the La Liga fixture.
It will be a different kind of farewell for Real Madrid, for this is likely to be the last Clasico match to feature Cristiano Ronaldo, who seems destined to quit Spain at the end of the season.
One wonders what he will make of the tributes to Cruyff as he considers his own place in the history of this great fixture.
Once again, when the action starts, all eyes will be on him and his Barcelona nemesis, Lionel Messi.
The pair have identical Clasico records, notes Oliver Brown of the Daily Telegraph, with 15 goals in 24 matches.
But that is where the comparisons end. Messi has thrived in the collective spirit of Barcelona, which was cherished by Cruyff. Ronaldo prefers "individual brilliance", says Brown, and it has not always paid off.
"A haul of seven trophies in seven years pales against the 18 that Messi has amassed at Barcelona in the same period. In those 24 contests with the Catalans, he has won just six. And in the most recent confrontation, a 4-0 defeat in Madrid... he was utterly anonymous."
"If this is to be his Clasico curtain call, he owes it to himself to produce a rousing final statement."
His standing in the annals of Spanish football depends on it. "For all his remarkable personal records, Cristiano Ronaldo's Real Madrid career has been far from a stellar success," says FourFourTwo. "It's maybe fitting that the jury is out on his Clasico legacy, too."
The magazine agrees that this too could be Ronaldo's final tilt at Barcelona, unless the two clubs meet in the Champions League.
But there is another giant of the fixture who can help him go out with a bang. Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
El Clasico is "the type of occasion that a double act as stellar as Zidane and Ronaldo should be made for", says Brown.
But the irony is that if Zidane is to coax a brilliant swansong from Ronaldo, he must persuade him to embrace Cruyff's team ethic. "Ronaldo's task in propelling Real to glory would be greatly eased if he accepted Bale and Benzema as equals and partners in crime rather than suspiciously viewing them as a threat to his status, as he often appears to," says Andy West of the BBC.