Catalonia referendum throws FC Barcelona′s future into doubt | News | DW | 30.09.2017
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Catalonia referendum throws FC Barcelona's future into doubt

The October 1 independence vote will decide whether Catalonia would break away from Spain or not. For football fans, an equally important question is where would the Barcelona football club play if the "yes" vote wins?

As Catalans gear up to cast their votes in a disputed independence referendum on Sunday, football fans all over the world are perplexed over the future of FC Barcelona, one of Spain's most prestigious and successful football clubs.

Where would the club play if Catalonia becomes an independent state? Would the region kick start its own league? Would a Catalonian league be as competitive as La Liga? Where would Barcelona's star footballer Lionel Messi play? The club's local and international fans are debating these questions.

Clubs' pro-independence leaning

It is no secret that FC Barcelona is not a neutral bystander in the Catalonian independence bid. In 2014, the club joined the National Pact on the Right to Decide, a group comprising of political parties and civil society organizations in favor of the independence vote. Earlier this month, the club released a statement saying it would defend "democracy, freedom of speech, and self-determination."

The Catalonian club has repeatedly said it is not a political entity, but some players, including Gerard Pique, and former FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach, Pep Guardiola, have openly expressed their views in favor of independence.

FC Barcelona officials are confident they could choose to play in whichever league they want – including the Spanish League. But it would probably not be as easy as they think.

"Barcelona cannot choose where it plays if there is an independence process in Catalonia," Javier Tebas, the president of Spain's Professional Football League, which organizes La Liga, said.

"In sport, it isn't a la carte and things must be clearly stated," Tebas recently told the pro-Madrid Marca newspaper. "It isn't easy to have an agreement and study Spanish legislation but if they [Catalan clubs] do get that, then they will not be able to play in Spain's La Liga, but I hope it doesn't come to that."

Catalonia's own league?

Espanyol and Girona are other major football clubs in the region who could be affected in the aftermath of a "yes" vote in Catalonia. The Catalan Football Federation manages a number of other smaller clubs in the region and could initiate its own league if Catalonia becomes an independent country.

But how competitive would the new league be? Would the winner of a Catalonian league be automatically guaranteed a place in the UEFA's Champions League? If not, then why would star players like Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Luis Suarez play in a competition that would most likely be similar to a second league in stature? Most importantly, a possible departure of big players from FC Barcelona could cripple the club financially.

Read more: Lionel Messi's tax fraud sentence reduced to fine

Other European leagues

Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls gave his two cents on the issue in 2015, suggesting that FC Barcelona could play their football in Ligue 1 should Catalonia gain independence from Spain.

"Monaco play in Ligue 1, so why not Barcelona?" Valls told the media.

A number of clubs across Europe do not play in their national leagues, for instance Welsh club Swansea City, which competes in the Premier League.

It is possible that FC Barcelona would be taken in by Italy's Serie A.

El Clasico and Messi-Ronaldo rivalry

FC Barcelona possibly not competing in La Liga would deprive football lovers of El Clasico, which most football experts dub the "best club football match" in the world.

El Clasicos are not merely football games; they are filled with nationalistic sentiments. While the Real Madrid club currently has an edge in El Clasicos over FC Barcelona, the latter has been more successful of the two in La Liga in the past 10 years.

The rivalry between Real Madrid's Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Messi, played out to its maximum in El Clasicos, is also a spectacle to behold. FC Barcelona possibly exiting La Liga would put a damper on that also.

Read more: Ronaldo named UEFA player of the year for third time

Last but not least, the Catalonian independence could force the 30-year-old Messi, who has been with FC Barcelona since the age of 12, to look for other clubs. And if that happens, the German football fans would hope he opts for a Bundesliga team.

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