During the 2010s, El Clasico reached its peak at a level we have never seen before or since. The football on display was electric; the unprecedented drama had everyone hooked.
From Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo to Pep Guardiola vs Jose Mourinho, El Clasico was a sporting rivalry like no other.
Barcelona represented the intricate side of the game with flowing tiki-taka football which were almost impossible to stop. Real Madrid brought star power and robustness to the party.
Two players who perfectly epitomised either side of the conflict and who had plenty of beef with one another back in the day were current Barcelona coach Xavi and Casemiro. The pair will come face to face one more time this week as Casemiro’s Manchester United tangle with Barca in the Europa League knockouts.
Xavi’s expertise was built upon dictating the tempo of a match and reading the game. He could kill teams with a pass whereas Casemiro wouldn’t hesitate in wiping you off your feet.
Casemiro was seen as a disrupter who would happily two-foot a family member if it meant Real Madrid got all three points. His technical skills are often underrated because of this, but playing on the edge was what made him great.
Throughout countless El Clasico meetings, it would be Casemiro’s personal mission to keep Lionel Messi out of the game. He got his first taste of the fixture against Barcelona in Real Madrid’s 2014 Copa del Rey triumph as he came on as a late substitute. It was some match.
On This Day in 2014 🗓️
Gareth Bale scored that goal vs Barcelona in the Copa del Rey Final.
That pace 👀pic.twitter.com/2rsXDslPEz
— Classic Football Shirts (@classicshirts) April 16, 2022
Casemiro was the new kid on the block at this point, whereas Xavi was already the seasoned pro who was heading into his final years with Barcelona.
During Xavi’s final season with Barcelona, in 2014-15, Casemiro spent the campaign out on loan with Porto and so their meeting in the 2014 Copa del Rey final was the only time they were on the pitch together.
The beef between the two players only truly kicked off when Xavi had left Barca and was playing for Al Sadd in Qatar. During a 2018 interview, Xavi explained some of the limitations in Casemiro’s game.
“Madrid break apart, seven players attack and Casemiro stays back on his own to cover the centre,” Xavi told El Pais.
“[Barca midfielder Sergio] Busquets cannot do that as even I am faster than he is. Casemiro is super fast, but he has trouble with everything else as he has not worked on it.
“He has other characteristics, is more defensive, makes more tackles, covers more ground, but he does not dominate space-time. If you had started with Casemiro aged 12, 13, 15, then he would have that.”
Casemiro had the perfect response to Xavi later that year as he explained: “Everyone says what they want, but I’ve been here four years, and heading into my fourth Champions League final.”
“I couldn’t sign for Barca, as I can’t play football the way Xavi wants. I am with Madrid until death.”
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) January 30, 2023
Prior to the 2018 Champions League final, Casemiro jokingly added: “As Xavi said, I do not understand football and I can not play for Barca. I do not have Barcelona football.”
After Casemiro had promptly bitten back, Xavi did insist that his comments were not meant as a criticism, although he doubled down on the point that the Brazilian was not a Barcelona-type player.
Xavi later added: “He’s a good player for Real Madrid, I think he’s a player with Madrid’s DNA, but he is not for Barcelona.
“What happens is that people like to compare players to the other side … Barcelona has a very complete and complex way of playing that not all players can adapt to.
“That’s what I wanted to say … It was not a criticism of Casemiro, but that Barcelona should hire players with their DNA. It was my comment, it was not a criticism, it was a constructive criticism.”
Despite not having Barcelona’s DNA, the Brazilian midfielder did often find himself on the winning side when it came to El Clasico.
Barcelona had largely dominated the fixture from 2008-2015, but Casemiro’s introduction into the first team around 2015-16, signalled a shift in the dynamic.
Casemiro featured in 19 El Clasico matches throughout his time with Real Madrid. He won nine, drew four and lost just six of those encounters in total.
Since their beef back in 2018, relations between the pair seems to have cooled. Upon Casemiro departing Real Madrid in the summer of 2022, Xavi was asked for his opinion.
“He is a player who has defined an era in football and at Real Madrid,” Xavi told reporters. “They have signed players to replace him, but I don’t want to talk too much about that. They are decisions made by the opposition and I don’t get involved in that.”
It now seems as if Xavi will be steering clear of any beef for the foreseeable future, but the feud between him and Casemiro was fun while it lasted.
By Ben Stewart