When Barcelona faces Real Madrid later on Saturday, it will not only be the biggest soccer match happening anywhere in the world (sorry, Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy), but also the most expensive soccer game in history.
More than 500 million people are watching around the world. The match has been set at 6pm Spanish time to take advantage of evening audiences in Asia (where the team’s Brazil and Argentine stars recently travelled) and the Middle East, and a lunchtime crowd in South America, where many of the teams’ stars come from, and the US.
The amount of talent out on the pitch at the Bernabeu is worth $1.3 billion—and that is even without the most expensive player in the world, Gareth Bale, who is injured. Still, the next two players by value—Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez—are ready to play.
Between the two teams, Madrid’s is more expensive—worth around $700 million—but that is partially because the value of many of Barcelona’s superstars has never been tested on the open market. Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro all came through the club’s famous La Masia academy and would all be worth many tens of millions if sold. And imagine if another academy product, Lionel Messi, perhaps the greatest player of all time, was sold.
How to make this match even more tantalizing? The possibility of a record-breaking moment. Messi is at 250 goals in the Spanish league, La Liga—just one behind the all-time record set in the 1940s, meaning he could break the record today during El Clasico. That would perhaps be the ultimate insult for Madrid fans, especially if the Spanish league presents Messi with a trophy. “I’ve seen the Bernabeu give a standing ovation to Barca players Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho, so why not Messi?” the BBC quoted the country’s football league chief, Javier Tebas, as saying. In that, he is right—Madrid fans are likely to handle themselves with more grace than when Luis Figo moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid: Catalan fans reacted then by throwing a pig’s head on the pitch.
If Messi is great, Ronaldo’s current form is terrifying. Ronaldo has already scored 22 goals this season in the league—meaning that he has singlehandedly scored more goals than 81 of the 98 teams in Europe’s top leagues. That’s right: more goals than entire teams, not people—including big names such as Arsenal and Liverpool. He was so good against Liverpool in the Champion’s League in the week that the fans at Anfield applauded him off—and he is now two behind the all-time Champion’s League scoring record set by Madrid legend Raul.
Either Messi or Ronaldo could decide the match, as they have in the past.
All this means that we haven’t even had time to talk about Suarez, who adds an extra dash of drama to the proceedings: He has the pressure of making his debut as a Barcelona player in the biggest match of his life after returning from a four-month ban for biting a player during the World Cup.