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 Spain’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 Cataluña 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.
It’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. It’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 Selecció 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, Barcelona’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 aren’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 Alba’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
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 Catalonia’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 Torres’s faltering form and Villa’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 Barcelona’s style.
Here is how the Spanish National Team could line up
FC Barcelona’s contribution to Spain’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, it’s hard to imagine the kind of success coming Spain’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?