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Lip-service to Catalonia?

Por: | 14 de septiembre de 2012


The last week has been an exhilarating one for many Catalan nationalists, with hundreds of thousands of people marking la Diada, the national day of Catalonia, by marching through the streets of Barcelona calling for independence from Spain. Estimates of the number of people thronging the city's streets, waving the Catalan flag and holding up banners calling for the creation of a new European state, varied from 600,000 to 1.5 million.

Perhaps the most famous current living Catalan could not attend as he no longer lives in the city, but he did address the crowd via a video-link. Former Barcelona coach and Spanish international midfielder Josep Guardiola appeared on a big screen holding up his symbolic sheet of green paper to say (in Catalan): “From New York, here you have one more vote,” said Guardiola. This was greeted by huge roars, and taken by many to say that the club with which Guardiola is so associated was backing the call for an independence referendum.

This feeling was also heightened by suspiciously well-timed stories which appeared in Catalan sports paper Sport the day before the march, which claimed the team's second jersey next season would be red and yellow striped, inspired by the senyera, the national flag of Catalonia. These were neither confirmed nor denied by the club, as president Sandro Rosell, new head coach Tito Vilanova and club captain Carlés Puyol made the traditional trip to lay flowers at the monument to Rafael Casanova, an icon of Catalan nationalism on the morning of September 11.

As highly visible faces of Catalonia's most prominent institution anyone associated with the club has of course been questioned about whenever they faced the press this week. At this point the club’s Spanish international players have plenty of experience in batting away such queries, and on Thursday winger Pedro Rodríguez (born in Tenerife) was diplomatic when asked if he agreed with Guardiola’s stance on Catalan independence.

"Guardiola has said what he feels, they are personal statements and should be respected,” Pedro said. Pep’s successor Tito was also asked about the issue in his pre-game press conference on Friday, and also gave a careful reply - “We should let people express their views peacefully, as Guardiola did,” he said on Friday. “He can say what he likes, because we are in a democracy".

Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta was not so backward about coming forward with an opinion. Laporta, who when in charge at the Camp Nou was never shy about using the club to further his own political ambitions (which have since been thwarted by the Calatan electorate), gave an interview to Catalan nationalist online magazine Nació Digital the day before the march. He used this to point out he had always represented the club at la Diada events and rue that he could not have lead the club in a Catalan state: “I would have liked to be president of Barça in an independent Catalonia,” he said. “It would be nice.”

Laporta’s successor (and former colleague, but now bitter rival) Sandro Rosell, also attended Tuesday’s march, but only in a personal capacity. Careful to manage the image projected he posed for photographers but did not speak with any reporters while there. On Thursday he did say however that "If Catalonia were independent I don't have any doubts that Barça would continue in the LFP (the Spanish league), just as Monaco play in the French league.”

Rosell was clever to frame the issue in footballing terms, and to raise an important issue for many blaugrana supporters, inside and outside of Catalonia. Outright independence remains an unlikely event in the short term, but the odds on it happening in the coming years have shortened during the current economic crisis, with the regional government regularly pointing out that Catalans pay more in taxes than they receive back in revenue from the central government in Madrid. This opens up the very important question of what would then happen to FC Barcelona.

Despite what you might think from some of their marketing, especially when Laporta was president, Barça are not the Catalan national side. An actual representative team, made up of players born in the region who represent various clubs throughout the Spanish and other leagues plays a few games each year, usually around Christmas. They last played in December 2011, when a Johan Cruyff coached selection including Barca players Xavi Hernández, Gerard Piqué, Cesc Fábregas and Víctor Valdés drew 0-0 with Tunisia in front of 36,545 supporters in the Catalan capital's Estadio Olímpico Lluís Companys.

Were Catalonia to become independent this would be a ready-made national team to compete at a very high standard, and would likely be readily accepted into UEFA and FIFA, where they could automatically challenge to win trophies.

What would happen at club level, however, looks much more problematic. There was a short-lived Lliga Catalana during the Spanish Civil War, although the Barcelona team spent much of the conflict touring North and South America under the management of Irishman Patrick O’Connell and rejoined the Spanish league once the war had finished and have played there since.

A Catalan Cup was re-established in 1984, and is held each year, although the seriousness with which Barcelona take it was shown by the cancellation of this season’s rejigged competition final against city rivals Espanyol, as a date could not be found to play it. Should La Lliga begin again it would be dominated by Barca, and to a lesser extent Espanyol, with lower tier teams such as Gimnàstic de Tarragona, Lleida, Girona, Sabadell, Lerida and Hospitalet de Llobregat (who would all likely be beaten by a Barcelona reserve or youth side) just likely making up the numbers. Champions League qualification would be a given for Barca, even if they would likely lose UEFA co-efficient points in the short term.

The biggest issue Rosell would have with a new Catalan domestic competition however is more than slightly awkward for him (or Laporta) to detail in public. Despite all the success on the pitch during Guardiola's historic last four seasons in charge, Barcelona are currently an estimated €578 million in debt. This is apparently a just about manageable situation considering their current assets, cash reserves and especially commercial revenues.

The lions' share of the latter however (€140 million a season through their domestic TV deal) is generated through their sometimes bitter but always compelling rivalry with Real Madrid. Leave the Spanish league, forego the typical four of five high profile clásicos a year, and Barca would be in serious financial bother. So much bother that paying the wages of all the Catalan players named above, and the club's Argentine talisman Leo Messi, would quickly become difficult.

This explains why Rosell was quick to float the case of Monaco this week. It maybe does not work quite perfectly as a precedent as that principality has much closer political, economic and defence ties than an independent Catalonia would have with Spain, but the example of Welsh teams Cardiff and Swansea competing in the English leagues is also there to be called upon.

But then there is no guarantee that UEFA or FIFA would be agree to a club side playing across national borders however, as their cold reactions to regularly mooted plans for Scottish teams Celtic and Glasgow Rangers to join the English Premier League show. Nobody really knows what would happen, but none of the possible sporting scenarios seem to work in Barcelona's favour.

Knowing this it could be that Guardiola, Rosell, Laporta and everyone else associated with the club, from players to fans, are all committed sufficiently to the cause of Catalan nationalism to risk the potentially damaging fall-out that would ensue from the creation of a new independent country. Or that they have not all thought it through properly. Or that they think (or hope) it's unlikely to happen and feel they are free to just go along with the prevailing mood in the region.

Hay 8 Comentarios

I agree that they wouldn't likely finish above third initially, but by god, imagine what the increased finance could do for a club like them. Their local fans might even start turning up to games instead of just going to see Barcelona instead (Ok, maybe that's a bit ambitious).

Thanks for the reply, it's certainly food for thought.

Richard - again, I'm not (here anyway) concerned about rights / wrongs / debate about independence, just how it's a difficult one for FCB to deal with.

Laia - I think nonsense is a bit harsh, the blog is not concerned with the independence / region / nation etc debate, just pointing out the awkwardness of the situation for FCB.

Lee - meant to reply before and yep, that's fair enough on Girona, they'd be competitive, but still hard to see them finishing above third.

I was looking at La Liga histories of all clubs to see where Catalan sides stand in total points ever - beyond Barca (2nd) and Espanyol (6th), next is Sabadell (32), Nastic (47), Lleida (55).

Considering population of Catalonia kinda shows how much has been focused on the top two.

I normally tend to support nations struggling for independence. However, in comparison to other independent struggles around the world, I find it hard to sympathise too much with Catalan nationalism, when you compare it to other nation's struggles, particularly that of Palestine, for example.

Although, like the rest of Spain, right now things aren't going great for Catalonia, it is way ahead of other regions in Spain. Unemployment there is much lower than in Andalusia and Extremadura, to name but two regions.

When I think of the oppression that other countries are suffering from, and then compare it to the main bugbear Catalonia seems to have, which is that it contributes more in tax than other regions, I start to lose interest.

Catalonia suffered under Franco, of course it did, but neither was it the only region that did, and neither has the suffering continued. Barcelona is among the top cities for tourism in Spain, if not Europe, and Catalan is the number one language, and they no longer have to put it with bullfighting, whatever the true reasons behind the prohibition were, while only Madrid can rival Barcelona's economic prowess.

I dislike Spanish nationalism and think Spain should celebrate the cultural diversity of its regions. But as far as I see it, Catalan nationalism, especially that espoused by the right-wing CiU, is more to do with money than it has to do with freedom. I used to know a paid up member of CiU, and he said he hated the fact that hard-working Catalonia subsidised the lazy Andalusians. If a Conservative MP was arguing that London and the home counties should become independent because they were fed up of subsidising the scroungers in the north of England, there would be outrage, and rightly so. Yet Catalan nationalism still has this image of being a symbol of resistance against Francoist oppression. Franco died 37 years ago and many regions of Spain are in much worse a state than Catalonia, partly because his rule put the brakes on the country's growth while the rest of post-war Europe flourished, and partly because a de-regulated construction sector was allowed to grow out of control thanks to neo-liberal policies implemented by the PSOE and the PP, the second and third biggest parties in Catalonia, and supported by the CiU, the governing party in Catalonia.

In reality, what the CiU hopes to achieve from this recent, albeit impressive, surge in nationalism, is to receive more money from the Spanish state. All which makes a bit of a mockery of their whole independence campaign.

Nonsense: Monaco play in the French League and Swansea in the English one. Any Lague would want Barcelona to pla in it, even La Liga since without several Clasicos a year the tv money would quickly dwindle. This nonsense you write is the same other anti-independence people argue to try to belittle a genuine and respectable wish od survival of a small nation (note, not region). It is not a matter of Independence, it is a matter of survival and even Cules to the bone like myself could not give a fig where Barca would play if we were to become an Independent Country.

Have to take issue with this paragraph:

"Gimnàstic de Tarragona, Lleida, Girona, Sabadell, Lerida and Hospitalet de Llobregat (who would all likely be beaten by a Barcelona reserve or youth side)"

Sabadell and Girona can certainly (and have in the recent past in the case of both teams) take points from Barça B, so it's a bit unfair to lump them in the category of teams with no chance against them. Interesting piece, though.

I liked your article. Specially your last paragraph, specially your last sentence. I think it's correct, or as you guys would say: "it hits the nail on the head".

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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