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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid
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on 31 March 2016
Football is politics. And in certain cases it can be beautiful both despite politics and because of politics. The classic clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid is one of these matches; every time they play is a guarantee of fantastic football and politics. Sid Lowe's book describes the history of this rivalry, both in political and in football terms, but mostly, how they both have mingled to create a rivalry that today is followed by the entire world.
The rivalry is not only about historical facts, but also about myths: Barcelona sees itself as the righteous rebels against Franco's regime, while Real Madrid sees itself as a club of gentlemen and good football. But there are many more nuances to this history, as Sid Lowe so amply shows. For instance, during the civil war a Real Madrid president was in fact part of the anti-Franco Republican government, while Barcelona, after having competed during the civil war (contrary to Real Madrid, as the city was under siege), became the dominant team in Spain immediately after the war. Real Madrid was from the 1950s largely run by a pro-government president, Santiago Barnabeu, who led the way in making them the best team in the world in the 1960s, ahead of a Barcelona side that constantly saw a conspiracy behind Real Madrid's success. This is mostly showed by the myth that Alfredo Di Stefano was “stolen” from them, while it rather appears that they were less smart than Real Madrid in a complex negotiation involving clubs in Argentina and Colombia.
The rivalry changed and evolved with Spanish history, and this is fantastically described in the book. The transition up to and after Franco's death is very interesting, when Johan Cruyff went to Barcelona as a player, and a new period of rivalry started. In football terms during the 1980s and 1990s the rivalry became the best in the world, with the best players in the world having played for either club. The list is simply amazing when one sees the players that have gone through either (or both in many cases!): Paul Breitner, Gary Lineker, Hugo Sanchez, Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Hristo Stoichkov, Emilio Butragueno, Michael Laudrup, Zinedine Zidane, Ronald Koeman, Raul, Romario, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo.... etc... The book has fantastic interviews with many of these players!
In the 1990s Johan Cruyff, now as coach put the foundation for what made the great Barcelona of the 2000s. In an attempt to be as good as FC Barcelona, Real Madrid's president, Florentino Perez, was instrumental in wanting to create a global brand spending millions on the best players in the world. In all, the 2000s became a period of rivalry defined by the best football in the world, money, and not least politics, as FC Barcelona continues to be an entry point of a growing Catalan nationalism demanding independence from Spain (the book starts with a highly politicized game of 2012 when thousands of fans in Barcelona shouted for independence during the match).
In this regard, the clashes are as political as ever, but at the same time the match has become a global affair: the best footballers in the world facing one another in a match that is never insignificant, but a final every time. The teams are completely dominating in Spain, and their high class also makes them among the best teams in Europe (in since 2000 Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have won three and four Champions League respectively) and surely in the world.
Sid Lowe is an English journalist, and that gives the book strength, as he does not take sides in what is a rivalry full of bitterness and myths, something that is surely difficult. Many fanatical fans of either Real Madrid or Barcelona are probably not going to like the book as he tries to demystify some of their stories.
In the end, one realises that these two teams need one another. They would not be able to define themselves without that rivalry, which has surely pushed them to always be better, until now them being both the best. It is a perfect symbiosis of opposites that has given us some of the best football we can wish for.
Any football fan should love this rivalry, and there is no better book to understand it.
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on 6 January 2016
A thoroughly researched and well written commentary on Spain over the period of Franco, post Franco and the respective highs and lows of two great clubs. The book is not biased towards any club or any regime and tells the history from both clubs perspectives. This is one of the finest, if not the finest, football book I have read.
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on 1 October 2017
so many books about spanish football these days, but this is a very good recap of the main rivalry.
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on 19 March 2017
Good Product and Good Delivery
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on 3 August 2017
Refreshing to find that this was not a book about Ronaldo v Messi. I read it as a Barcelona fan and found it a very balanced account of how these two great teams loath and need each other in equal measure.
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on 7 June 2017
Great book would highly recommend it to anyone who's is a fans of Spanish football
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VINE VOICEon 11 October 2013
Due to the success of the Spanish national team and the exploits of arguably the world's two biggest clubs, there have been many books about Spanish football. Sid Lowe's book tops the lot and stands head and shoulders above the rest. But this is far more than just a book about football.....

Football takes a back seat for the first 80 pages, Spain's politics and modern history played a huge role in the identities of both Madrid and Barcelona. This cannot be understated and Lowe does a fantastic job of setting the scene. It was impossible to keep sport and politics apart, both had a major bearing on the dna of these great rivals. Whilst some of the work will be familiar to other books on the same subject, the book has a stronger understanding of the far-reaching influence the clubs possess. Chapter by chapter the history of their rivalry is built (even manufactured at times) and is even-handed in both praise and criticism. Thankully it's only the last few chapters that deal with the current teams, personally I'm rather tired of the question - who is better, Messi or Ronaldo? The book manages to avoid wasting paper gushing over the both of them. No matter how good individuals are, the book illustrates that the club will always be bigger, and rightly so. Personally I found the book contained some wonderful stories and tales especially from Michael Laudrup, Louis Van Gaal and Pedrag Mijatovic. Probably the only criticism I found was that the Bobby Robson era at Barca was largly ignored bar a brief mention.

At over 400 pages you will devour this pretty quickly and by the end will still want more. There are some fine books about the recent Spanish footballing glory but this one is the best. Sid Lowe shows he has more in his locker beyond football.
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on 27 September 2014
Can't fault the depth of research that has gone into the book, but if you're reading it for the 'football' side of the rivalry you might find the historical and political context drags on a bit when it's setting the scene. I understand it's an essential part of the story, but I enjoyed this book more once it moved on from that and started telling the story of the rivalry on the pitch. Overall it's a good read though, and an education on El Clasico. I would still recommend it, particularly to people who have an interest in the history of the non-footballing aspects of the Madrid/Barcelona divide in Spain.
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on 25 May 2014
I am a filipina from the Philippines and my fiance is currently living in UK who is also a British. My fiance is a very sports enthusiast especially in football. In the Philippines, basketball is the most popular sports, even so, I am not a very sports person so I am not good in conversing with my fiance about sports, about football. I am trying to learn it but it's hard and I want my fiance to know that I still love listening to his sports stories even if I do not have any idea at all. I never wanted my fiance to think that I am not interested with sports, and I know that every thing about sports will make him happy. Recently I have been seeing his tweets about Atletico Madrd and Barcelona and all about La liga stuff in Spain, so I searched and I found this book. I know that he will really love it, I didn't hesistate to purchase it and it was delivered to perfectly within estimated date. My fiance opened the package the day of our anniversary and posted on facebook how happy he is, telling his facebook peeps that he has the best woman ever. I asked him how it was and he loves the content as it also includes history :) I am so happy that he loves it.

If your partner is a sports enthusiast, I would defo recommend it!!! Great book, good content and very informative.
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on 13 November 2013
This is a truly wonderful book that is beautifully written, meticulously researched and benefits from interviews with a vast number of relevant people : players, coaches, directors, physios and even a cemetery caretaker.
But it's not just about football : it puts these two huge clubs in the context of Spanish history, society , culture and politics and in doing so exposes the myths about the Barca Madrid rivalry as well as uncovering the reality of their interdependent stories.
Read it, enjoy the often hilarious inside stories, and understand a hugely important component of Spain.
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