The recent clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou was as big as it could get when it comes to turning a football game into a political forum. Real Madrid were in town, the club which is the symbol of everything Castilian, a club blessed by General Francesco Franco himself and an issue swept under the rug for far too long came bustling to the fore in the backdrop of recent protests in Catalonia. There could not have been a better stage for 98000 Catalans to chant for independence which they prominently did. The Spanish Government meanwhile covered its ears in horror.

The calls for independence grow with every passing day, adding insult to an already injured Spain. Catalans could not be blamed for looking to gain independence from a country that they never have, or most of them, considered themselves a part of. Catalonia is also Spainai??i??s wealthiest region and, according to reports, pays more to the central government than it gets back in funding. As Joan Vidal, chief of staff for the president of CataluAi??a said

An economist just this morning told me that he saw Catalonia as being to Spain what Germany is to Europe. That shows that we have our own image, while Brand Spain is really suffering.

Itai??i??s all a bit ironic. While the tug-of-war between a lost identity and an ailing economy continues to churn out a quite impressive figure of possibilities, the number is not far behind in football either. Itai??i??s a little difficult for an outsider to make an informed suggestion on how the politics of this new and vigorous demand for independence will play itself out, but if it were to happen soon, it will not be too naive to delve and take a look at how the loyalties and ideologies could change, on the football pitch at least.

So let us take the plunge and take a look at what could happen if indeed the aforementioned were to happen. Let it be stated here, that the author is only a neutral observer and respects the sentiments and opinions on both the sides.

Ramifications of an Exodus – Country over Club or Club over Country?

It is well worth noting that Catalonia has a National team, called the Catalonia regional football team with most of their players inadvertently from FC Barcelona. However, the team does not play in any international tournaments as Catalonia is not affiliated to either FIFA or UEFA, and is therefore not allowed to participate in either the FIFA World Cup or the European Championship because the Spanish region of Catalonia is not a state. Eyebrows are not raised in Catalonia when these players play for the Spanish National team, but in the situation of a clear split, there will hardly be any doubt that players will have to choose one over the other. It is this very question of loyalty that can throw up several interesting questions.

Lets us analyse the Spanish (Catalan and otherwise) contingent of FC Barcelona. The likes of Valdes, Pique, Puyol, Xavi, Busquets and Fabregas are ever-present in the national team with the exception of Valdes who is the second-choice goal-keeper to Iker Casillas. Even for all they are leaving behind, these players born and raised in Catalonia will surely prefer to play for SelecciA? Catalana. However, what about players like David Villa, Pedro Rodriguez, Jordi Alba or above all Andres Iniesta? Three out of these four have come through La Masia, Barcelonaai??i??s youth setup. Born in different parts of Spain, they were raised in Catalonia and have lived there for most of their lives. Will they choose to play for Spain or Catalonia? Above all, if they indeed choose to play for Spanish National Team, how will The Blaugrana faithful react? What will be the reaction towards players choosing to play for Spain, after having been raised through the youth setup of a Catalan club? Andres Iniesta is adored at Camp Nou and is perhaps one of the best midfielder of this generation. Will he be revered in a similar manner if he were to play for Spain?

This could be a classic case of Club over Country or Country over club, even for those who are Catalans by birth, and clearly more so for those who arenai??i??t Catalans but if the loyalty shown by those coming through La Masia for their club is anything to go by, we could see the likes of Iniesta and Pedro (Tenerife born) opting to play for Barcelona. Anything otherwise, and it might be considered sacrilegious, to say the least.

It could be tough call for predicting Albaai??i??s loyalty although loyalty and prospect of playing for Barcelona could sway his decision in the favour of club rather than country. In case of David Villa, he could be expected to continue playing for Spain and Barcelona, the only case in such contrast. Even the Catalans will not expect otherwise.

Here how a Catalan team could line up

Catalonia

Spanish National: Will the supremacy continue?

The one word that has come to be associated with Spanish National Team in recent years is an Embarrassment of Riches. Spanish youth academies throughout the length and breadth of Spain have produced talent of the highest calibre. However the ascendancy of talent coming through the ranks of FCB has ensured that these players are unlikely to get a proper chance in the near future. Spain and Cataloniaai??i??s parting of ways could mean a complete overhaul of the Spanish National Team, a whole new ball game from this point onwards with players deemed surplus to requirements before, coming in to realise their potential.

It could mean a first call-up to the Senior Spanish National team for Mikel Arteta. It still comes as a shocker to anybody who comes across this for the first time, but such has been the flow of talent that he has been conveniently overlooked. It will also mean greater role for Juan Mata and Santi Carzola who have so far been largely overlooked. Talented players such as Nacho Monreal of Malaga could get their place in the first team, if Jordi Alba chooses to stay on with Catalonia.

One of the most significant changes will also be the change in style of play. Vicente del Bosque has comfortably moulded his team around the Barcelona players, the biggest example of which came in the Euros 2012 when he chose to play Fabregas as a false 9 over Torres or Negredo as an out and out striker. This had as much to do with Torresai??i??s faltering form and Villaai??i??s injury as it had to do with Del Bosque implementing the Barcelona model on Spanish team. Although the team will still have brilliant midfielders like Alonso and Arteta who could dictate play and midfielders like David Silva, Juan Mata and Carzola weaving their game high up the pitch, the tiki-taka style and false-9 will be thrown out of the window and we could see Spain moving towards a more Spanish style of the old rather than Barcelonaai??i??s style.

Here is how the Spanish National Team could line up

Spain

FC Barcelonaai??i??s contribution to Spainai??i??s success can hardly be overstated and although there will always be those claiming Spanish Football is not just about Barcelona and that there is far too much talent elsewhere, itai??i??s hard to imagine the kind of success coming Spainai??i??s way if not for Barcelona. And in case of such an eventuality, for all the talent in Spanish ranks, it could turn out to be a real hard ball to maintain the supremacy that has come to be expected from Spain. It is a bit undignified and naive perhaps to explore such possibilities, but the permutations and combinations are indeed so fascinating that it could hardly go untouched. And should this happen, the titanic shifts in Spanish football will definitely produce some fireworks worthy of viewing. Something like a Christmas eve for the football enthusiast perhaps?

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10 Responses to “Catalonia’s Demand For Independence : Spanish Football At Crossroads?”

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  1. Marc says:

    Being a culé myself, as well as a catalan, it is interesting your approach and conclusions.

    It does not sound too far fetched either. By the time this eventual independence happens Puyol and Xavi may already be retired. But we also have winger Deulofeu (next big star, some say) and midfielders Rafinha and Sergi Roberto. Bartra is a good center back also, who is actually in the first team nowadays but hasn’t had a chance to play yet.

    Check Deulofeu (7) here on this game https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_9NJ01PiRQ

    I think nowadays the catalan national team would be a team not to be taken lightly.

    • Shivam Chaturvedi says:

      I would completely agree with you there. You may understand that I was not in a position to suggest when, and if at all, this eventuality were to occur. So I analysed what changes could happen now. But yes, the players that you have suggested are more than likely to take up the mantle in the near future. Puyol as we know, might already be contemplating retirement from International Football.

  2. As a foreigner living in Barcelona I’ve seen how the success of the Spanish national team is simply ignored in Catalonia. They win two Euros and a World Cup in between, but nobody seems to care, even though half the team is from FCB. More interesting to me, though, is how the Catalan players on the Spain team are never criticised for declaring for Spain, rather than opting to be ‘conscientious objectors.’ I’ve never heard a peep from anyone about that. I wonder how the Catalans rationalise that – say, Puyol, the embodiment of the Catalan man, playing for Spain. Maybe one day I’ll pluck up the courage to ask someone…

    Nice artilce by the way.

    • Pep says:

      Hey Jim. A few years ago there was the case of this Barcelona player, Oleguer Presas, played for Barcelona many years and later for Ajax, and he is currently retired. He declared his strong feelings for Catalan independence, and he is the closest one who’s been to become a conscientious objector. But he was called for the Spanish team and answered, a bit reluctantly, to the call (although I believe he never played for Spain).

      The problem is that objecting to play for Spain would go very much against the player’s own interests, because want it or not, right now his nationality is Spanish and he couldn’t play for any other national team. So an objecting player would lose exposure and experience from his national team, which is a very high price to pay. Right now all Catalans consider that it’s ok to play for Spain as long as there isn’t any other country to play for. Can’t deny a player the right to play in a World Cup for a political stance. But a Catalan player who did that would immediately become a hero of Catalan independence.

      It will be very different when Catalunya becomes independent and every player must declare for one or the other. There will be intense feelings, difficult decisions, and possibly players forced to leave FC Barcelona if they declare for Spain, as Shivam correctly foresees. Or to suffer endless heckling from Barça supporters for going to the enemy. Remember Figo.

      After all, FC Barcelona is already considered the unofficial Catalan national team.

    • tunnel says:

      If you are asked to play for the Spanish national team on any sport, and refuse, you may be fined 3000€ to 15000€. More importantly your sports license may be revoked for 3 to 5 years, rendering you unable to play in any professional sports. So we cut our players some slack if they play for Spain.

    • daniel boon says:

      I’ll give you the answer to your question: Ley del Deporte Español (spanish sport law), article 42: Every spanish individual called to play with the Spanish Team MUST attend the call. It doesn’t say what happens if you refuse, but you can see what happened to Oleguer Pressas a few years ago when he refused to play for Spain: Publicity Contracts terminated and a quick transfer to the nice Netherlands (I guess he got to choose the destination, lol)
      No catalan sportsman dares to say: “I’d rather play with Catalonia”, at least in football because they are well aware of the consequences. Look what happened to Alex Fabregas in hockey during the Olympics.
      Catalan sportsman are more aware than anyone than we are living under a dictatorship here in Spain.
      They day we become free, many will come out of the closet, I just wish some had the bollocks to come out BEFORE we become independent. Funny enough, it’s been a spaniard born, Andrés Iniesta, the scorer for Spain in the world cup final, who has got the guts to say “I’m spanish, but I’m a catalan too” just yesterday in an interview. You wouldn’t believe the hate that this has spurred all over spanish tweeters…what a country man! Can’t wait to leave!!

  3. Santiago Solari says:

    Its not as easy as that. Dont take it for granted that anyone coming out of La Masia is going to be great. Media has over hyped these players & the youth team. A lot of them are just average. Its a coincidence that Valdes, Puyol, Iniesta, Messi, Busquets, Pique are in form at the same time and Barca has clicked. Remember the 1998-2004 phase? Its somewhat like what Madrid had with the Quinta Del Buitre back in the 80s where majority were homegrown and in form.

    These type of players converge together once in a lifetime. Let these guys retire and then lets see your Duelofue, Montoya, Cuenca, Tello etc prosper or dominate. Highly unlikely as we can already see Barcelona faltering with Puyol & Pique out.

    Spain without the Barca players will easily be as good as with them if not worse. Dont underestimate Silva, Arteta, Albiol, Mata etc.

    Catalonia asking for independence is only posturing. They cannot afford it in reality. Specially Barcelona. Where will they play if Spain dont take them after the breakup? Join Ligue 1?

    • Shivam Chaturvedi says:

      Actually regarding the last past of our post, I thought I would dedicate some part of my article on to where to Barcelona play, but decided otherwise. Pretty valid question IMO. And don’t get me wrong, I am far from a Barcelona admirer, but my article was on the basis of the quality of current crop of barcelona players.
      Having said that, Spain are still a lot more balanced team.

  4. Lorenzo says:

    iniesta isn’t catalan, he’s a barca academy graduate but not born in catalonia, he’s from Castile–La Mancha not catalonia, so he wouldn’t be on their team. which is a huge blow to them. cesc can pick up the slack but cesc is no iniesta.

    i imagine the spain team would reflect a madrid style. while catalonia would literally be barcelona.

    here’s the uniqueness though. spain would have many variations to choose from with the various talents of spain (madrid, basque, seville, coruna etc). catalonia would just be barcelona with very little variety and talents to call up.