Considering what Catalan independence would mean for Spanish soccer

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As amazing as Barcelona’s play has been on the field, something more remarkable is happening off. As Andy Mitten describes in Eurosport’s Pitchside Report, the Catalonia independence movement may be reaching heights unseen in our lifetimes, and that movement is coalescing around FC Barcelona.

Here’s Mitten describing the scene last Wednesday after Lionel Messi scored the winner against Spartak Moscow:

That’s when most of the Camp Nou crowd started singing – for Catalan independence from Spain. I’ve watched over 200 Barca games at Camp Nou and have never witnessed anything like it. Fringe groups have sung songs or hung a 20-metre ‘Catalonia is not Spain’ flag from the second tier during Barca’s very biggest games, but they have long been the actions of minorities hoping for mainstream coverage.

Last Wednesday was different and in keeping with the current mood in Catalonia, where between 700,000 and 1.5 million people took part in a pro-independence rally on September 11 — depending on which estimates you believe. In 11 years spending more time in Barcelona than any other city, I’ve never seen so many people on the streets.

According to Mitten, Spain’s economic crisis is feeding the pro-independence streak, with Barcelona’s matches at the Nou Camp allowing Catalan’s to gather in mass. Even when an Argentine scores, it’s natural (perhaps, national) that pro-Catalonia sentiment comes out.

The post goes on to ask a very interesting question as it concerns our soccer: What would happen to the Spanish league if Barcelona were no longer Spanish? In all likelihood, they would be allowed to compete just as they are now, becoming one of a handful of European teams that are allowed to cross-borders. Although Mitten brings up the North Atlantic league and Old Firm-to-England scenarios as cross-border examples met with wariness, Canadian teams playing in a U.S.-based league affirm the idea that practical concerns based on a region’s culture and history will always get FIFA’s consideration.

But let’s go further down the rabbit hole. Let’s say Barcelona wants to play in a Catalan league. Or Spain doesn’t want them. Or FIFA doesn’t allow the cross over. What would the Iberian soccer world look like?

  • The Catalan league would be Barcelona and everybody else. Espanyol would be guaranteed second place until the two big teams regress to the level of rest Catalonia’s clubs (the best of which are playing at the second and third-tier of Spanish soccer).
  • And those teams would regress. The league wouldn’t be an attractive destination for star talent. Television revenue would decline. There’d be fewer spots in European competition.
  • Clasicos would be hard to come by. The Barça-Real rivalry would wither.
  • The Spanish league would take a huge, perhaps irreparable hit, not being able to market itself around Real Madrid and Barcelona.
  • And competitively, the top of Spain’s first division would only be slightly more compelling than Catalonia’s, though that would change in time.

Our European soccer experience would change for the worse if Barcelona left La LigaNot that it would actually happen. Catalonia would first have to get independence then start its own soccer league then convince Barcelona to jump from Spain’s.

So while that rabbit hole was fun, it’s not a place we’ll be visiting again any time soon.