After Catalonia’s parliament approved a bill to secede from Spain by 2017, the alarms went off in Madrid. But what does FC Barcelona, one of Spain’s and the world’s most iconic teams have to do in all of this?
FC Barcelona, one of the most successful teams of the past decade, is a symbol of Catalan culture. The team's motto “Més que un club” (More than a club) reflects Catalan nationalism and its supporters use it as an outlet for the independence movement.
There are even chants of “independence” during every home game when the clock reaches 17 minutes and 14 seconds, a reference to the year 1714 when Spain defeated Catalan forces and took over the territory. Following the bill's approval, the province seeks to become an independent state as soon as possible.
Independence not good for business
Last September, UEFA fined Barcelona with 40,000 euros after supporters waved the flags, known as Estelades, and chanted pro-independence slogans during a Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen. Barcelona had been fined back in July for a similar case during the Champions League final in Berlin.
But the heavy fines have not stopped fans from displaying their intents. Just two weeks ago, 30,000 flags were distributed outside of the Camp Nou stadium before Barcelona's latest Champions League game against BATE Borisov. Supporters of the independence movement had a minor victory after UEFA decided to suspend its fines against the club until the Court for Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reviewed the case and reached a decision.
The team has opted for staying neutral in political matters but some of its main figures have openly expressed support for the independence cause. Bayern Munich's coach and former Barcelona player and coach, Pep Guardiola has declared his full support to secede from Spain. In a video for Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), a Catalan independence coalition, Guardiola informs in Catalan that “there's no turning back” and Catalan independence is "inevitable".
According to the president of the Spanish League, Javier Tebas and the country's sports minister Miguel Cardenal, Barcelona would not be able to compete in La Liga if Catalonia gains independence. Cardenal added that Barça's level and presence in European football will certainly diminish in the case of Catalan secession.
A few days before the Catalan parliamentary election back in September, Tebas tweeted: “If Spain splits, so too does La Liga. Let's hope we never reach such an absurdity.”
However, various leagues across the world are composed of teams from multiple nations. In Europe, England's Premier League allows Welsh teams such as Swansea to participate and France's Ligue 1 has AS Monaco registered among its ranks.
Some reports indicate that the French league would be willing to adopt Barcelona. Its close geographical location and competitive teams such as Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon offer a promising option for the blaugranas. So far, those reports are only speculations as no official comment has been made from either the league or the team.
Although there are no guarantees that Catalan independence would mean an absolute end to Barcelona's league membership, one thing is for certain: a ban on Barça would be the end of La Liga's prestige.
Dependent on rivalry
Perhaps the team that would be most affected by Catalan independence would not necessarily be Barcelona but its most fierce rival: Real Madrid.
The Spanish giants live off each other and their intense encounters known as “El Clásico” are highly anticipated by football enthusiasts and enjoy worldwide viewership. The matches also have some of the highest ratings among sporting events around the globe which translates into massive profits for both teams and their league.
According to Forbes, both Real Madrid and FC Barcelona top the list of the most valuable football teams respectively. Were Barcelona no longer be eligible to play in La Liga, matches against its most hated adversary would be reserved for the Champions League only.
Of course, assuming the team ends up playing in a league of a high enough caliber for Champions League.
The creation of a Catalan league, although a possibility, would not be the best of options for Barcelona. A Catalan league would be similar to those of San Marino and Gibraltar which consist of amateur teams with only a small number of professional players, many holding second jobs outside of the sport.
A Catalan league would not offer the level of competition needed to participate in any continental championship any time soon meaning the end of the traditional Barcelona-Madrid clash for good.
Catalan independence would be an "hasta la vista" to the derby, if Tebas is proved right, and a major financial loss for Barcelona, Real Madrid and La Liga. But all in all the biggest losers of it all would unfortunately be the fans of the beautiful game.