Barcelona's identity puts them in a tough position
Catalonia is moving towards independence
29 November ~ On Sunday millions of Catalans voted in an election which, beyond politics, could significantly change the landscape of Spanish football. The region's mayor Xavier Trias has suggested that FC Barcelona, seen by many as the embodiment of this movement, may not stay in La Liga if a referendum is passed. "We do not have the possibility of a competitive league," he said after separatist parties received a majority backing. "We would have very few teams and Barcelona will need to join another league. That could be the French or the Spanish one."
Although club president Sandro Rosell has dismissed Trias' claims, calling them "unbelievable", moving to Ligue 1 or elsewhere remains a possibility, however minor. Cutting their ties with the Spanish Football Federation may give the club no other option but to start a new era. The repercussions of this would go far beyond those which have seen, for example, Swansea and Cardiff play in England divisions. Arguably the sport's fiercest, most compelling rivalry, with current champions Real Madrid, would be lost – and, in turn, one half of a league long perceived as a duopoly. Both teams, not to mention the league, would surely suffer without that competitive edge.
If Barça are to reach an agreement to remain in La Liga, just as AS Monaco compete in France despite being based in a sovereign city state, the effects of independence would still resonate. Their most recent game against Real Madrid, on October 7, gave some indication of the heightened politicisation likely to loom over future encounters. Chants of "Independencia" vociferously rang out, while a mosaic of the Senyera flag – viewed as a symbolic means of refuge, alongside Barça, during the region's dictatorial repression – was formed. There are rumours that the club's away shirt next season will be based on the Senyera's yellow-and-red stripes.
Independence is not as simple, however, as holding a referendum. It remains illegal for the moment and has become a more complicated issue after Catalan president Artur Mas, an influential figure in the campaign, lost seats. This adds to the diplomatic tightrope which the club, from board members to players, must walk: keeping fervent supporters of independence on their side without shunning those only interested in the team's football. Take defender Gerard Piqué's seemingly incongruous tweet before the October El Clásico, which overlooked the socio-economic baggage to argue that "it's just a football game" between Barça and Real rather than Catalonia and Spain.
Two weeks later, Rosell echoed Piqué's words. The president told 1,000 supporters that the separatist Estelada flag – different to the Senyera, which represents the autonomous region without any political slant – would not be officially associated with the club. "Barça will never get mixed up in political issues," he said. "This doesn't mean that this isn't a Catalan club and that of course we will defend our roots and origins, but one thing shouldn't be mixed with the other. One thing is politics and the other is identity. Barça unites us all." On the basis of the past, and what the future may hold for Catalonia and FC Barcelona, those two entities may become further intertwined. Tom Parfitt @tparf