Bengaluru, October 22: For lovers of the beautiful game across the globe, an El Clasico without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo was unthinkable for years.
Now, as the first fixture sans the two of the greatest players draws closer, former Real Madrid defender Fernando Sanz allayed the fears of the high-voltage contest in the top flight of Spanish League losing its sheen. He insisted that the brand of El Clasico is bigger than any individual player.
While Ronaldo had already left Real Madrid a couple of seasons back, Messi, after much dilly-dallying, left Camp Nou for Paris Saint-Germain in a much-hyped pre-season transfer, leaving the football world divided over the relevance of the most anticipated fixture of La Liga's annual calendar.
But Sanz, who started his club career at Santiago Bernabeu, says the brand of El Clasico is bigger than that of the players and that the Barcelona vs Real Madrid rivalry will stand the test of times.
"The brand of Real Madrid and Barcelona is bigger than the brand of players. Both Real Madrid and Barcelona are clubs with more than 100 years of history and their brand is bigger than that of the individual players. The El Clasico will be the same without Messi and Ronaldo," Sanz told a group of journalists in a virtual interaction.
From the very first kick of a ball, every professional footballer dreams of playing in the biggest matches and in Spanish La Liga there is no doubt that the El Clasico is one of those, and one which all lovers of the beautiful game eagerly wait with bated breath.
The latest in the series will be enacted on Sunday (October 24) at Barcelona's home ground of Camp Nou.
The match kicks off at 7.45pm IST and the Indian audience can catch the action live on MTV with live streaming available on Jio TV and Voot Select.
"It'll be a good El Clasico still. You can't just pick a single player, but there're many who can make a difference. For Real, Karim (Benzema) has the experience while and Vinicius (Jr) is the man in form.
From Barcelona's point of view, with Messi gone, Ansu (Fati) is the new flag-bearer. He's has taken over the No.10 jersey and mantle from Messi and is their future. Memphis (Depay) too would be keen to impress as this is his first El Clasico," Sanz said.
Both Los Merengues and Los Cules had made some good signings in the pre-season and on Sunday several of the new playes will have the opportunity and the honour of being able to make their El Clasico debuts.
However Sanz kept reminding the oft-repeated cliche that the game is bigger than the individual.
"El Clasico isn't just about Messi or Ronaldo. In the past also legends like Johan Cruyff and Alfredo di Stefano had played for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. I don't think the departure of the greats will affect the brand of El Clasico as such.
Ronaldo left Madrid a few seasons ago. But the figures are still the same. Still close to 600 million people across the world watch El Clasico every year. Now Messi has left Barcelona. But El Clasico has always been growing in terms of spectators in stadiums, television viewership and sponsors and will continue to grow," he added.
Real have had an edge over Barca in El Clasico in recent times and as the batte lines for the latest have been drawn, Sanz, in his true Galactico spirit, hopes the status quo remains.
"I'm not into the number game.. the predictions and all that. I mean the final scoreline and all. It'll be a good El Clasico for sure and I'm expecting a Real Madrid victory," Sanz signed off in a jovial vein.