For years, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s rivalry has defined the clasico. Real Madrid’s meetings with Barcelona are won and lost by the world’s two best players, who seemingly take turns to write the narrative of the Spanish football season.
Their rivalry is a competitive one but it is also friendly one. The pair always stress their mutual respect for one another. There is usually little, if any, ‘needle’. Yet the same cannot be said for the rivalry which truly defines the modern clasico. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique simply do not get on.
The two defenders respect each other, of course, and successfully put aside their differences when playing for the Spanish national team, but during the regular club season there are no niceties.
The latest flashpoint came on Sunday’s clasico, following Ramos’ sending-off for a careless two-footed tackle on Messi. So, why do they not get along and how did their rivalry start?
‘Tell him in Andalusian…’
While Pique is often the instigator through his incessant taunting of Madrid, the first hint of any animosity between the pair came from Ramos in October 2010. They were on international duty with Spain and speaking at a press conference when one journalist asked Pique if he could answer a question in Catalan.
“En Andalz? Tell him in Andalusian,” Ramos responded. The Madrid defender later claimed he was joking, but he was supposedly the only one in the room who did not break out into an awkward, nervous laughter. The implicit slight against Catalonian culture, something Pique has always spoken up for, was there for all to see.
As mentioned, Pique’s tendency to tease Madrid is often at the root of his spats with Ramos. The ex-Manchester United man is not popular with Madrid supporters, and that can all be traced back to a simple hand gesture after Barcelona's infamous 5-0 victory over their rivals in November 2010.
After the final whistle, Pique held five fingers up to the Nou Camp crowd. In Spain, this is known as the manita, which translates as the ‘little hand’. Ramos, sent off that night, did not publicly respond, but the gesture marked Pique out as a target for the ire of Madrilenas from then on.
‘Thank you, Kelvin Roldan’
Fast forward a few years, specifically to Ronaldo’s birthday in 2015. He and several other Madrid players are pictured partying with Kelvin Roldan, a Colombian pop star, not long after losing the Madrid derby 4-0 to Atletico.
From that defeat onwards, Madrid were playing catch up at the top of La Liga and when Barcelona finally sealed the title, Pique couldn’t help himself. “Thanks to all and thanks to Kevin Roldan,” he said, “it all started with you.”
Ramos, in his response, tried and failed to be diplomatic. “When you’re in a celebration, you lose it a little bit,” he said. “I’m not going to judge anyone but it never occurs to me to remember other people that aren’t [my teammates] during mine.”
Arbeloa, the ‘cone’
Whatever you do, do not call Alvaro Arbeloa a ‘cone’. That was Pique’s mistake in 2015, when critiquing the apparently static defending of the Real Madrid full-back.
Ramos once again took the bait and defended his team-mate. “Disrespect is bad for the atmosphere around a team,” he said. “Pique should follow the example set by [Carles] Puyol, Xavi, Raul or Iker [Casillas].”
Pique, for what it’s worth, replied by praising Ramos for defending Arbeloa. “I admire Ramos for defending his team-mate, I genuinely do.” It probably only made the Madrid man angrier.
Tears of joy
The ‘tears of joy’ emoji is omnipresent nowadays. Its most famous use in Spanish football came after Madrid fielded an ineligible player in a Copa del Rey match against Cadiz 18 months ago. Denis Cheryshev was supposed to be suspended but played from the start, scoring Madrid's first goal. Ultimately, Rafael Benitez's side were kicked out of the competition.
Pique could not help himself.
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) December 2, 2015
Predictably, Ramos was not a fan of his international team-mate’s braying. “The lack of respect adversely affects the atmosphere [in the Spain squad on international duty]. He has had enough good role models to avoid these stupid things.”
Pique might like to mock, but he can also play the victim card. Earlier this year, he accused Spanish referees of bias in favour of Madrid after the two clubs’ respective Copa del Rey last-16 ties.
Following Barcelona’s defeat to Athletic and Madrid’s controversial victory over Sevilla, he claimed: “The penalty to Neymar was very clear and the one with Gorka [Iraizoz] on me, too, but we already know how this works.
“We already saw what happened yesterday in Sevilla against Madrid... from kick-off to the last minutes. We want to play football and not roulette, which is what these referees cause.”
Ramos replied: “We already know about Pique’s world, where everything’s a plot against him.”
Ramos’ red card
All this bring us to Sunday night and the moment Ramos decided to slide through Messi’s shins. As he left the field, he appeared to mouth to Pique: “Talk now, talk now,” while clapping his hands.
“Ramos is going to regret that challenge when he gets home,” Pique said after the game. “They are used to very permissive refereeing here and when it doesn't go that way the referee is the bad guy.”
But Ramos was not clapping the referee, he was clapping Pique, as he was more than happy to point out. “Perhaps with so much tweeting and pressure he ends affecting the referees,” he said.
It was the latest barb in a rivalry that will only run and run.