El Clasico: so enormous is this one fixture in the Spanish footballing calendar, and so intense the rivalry between the two clubs which contest it, that the name has even become synonymous with any sporting event between two teams with a fierce rivalry.
From the “Saudi El Clasico” of Al-Hilal v Al Ittihad, to the Mexican league “El Clasico del Sur” of Puebla FC v Veracruz to the prestige of California’s own (cue the over-enthusiastic American commentator’s voice) “El Clasico” of Animo Leadership High School v Hawthorne High Boys soccer teams (I swear, I’m not making that last one up).
Animo-Hawthorne "El Clasico" soccer game set for Saturday https://t.co/goYPfdnDA6
— Daily Breeze (@DailyBreezeNews) January 15, 2016
But, going back to the original and most intense version of El Clasico, what if it were simply erased from the footballing calendar? What if (god forbid), we football fans were deprived of one of the world’s premier football matches, as if in some kind of cruel, unforgiving alternative universe where it ceased to exist?
Well, bad news then, since it could well be a reality, however, unlikely it may seem. If you’ll stay with me for a brief and very basic foray into Spanish contemporary politics, I’ll explain (I swear, I’ll make this as quick as possible so you can get back to arguing over whether Messi or Ronaldo is the better player).
5 Reasons why Emile Heskey is better than Lionel Messi.
You can't argue with fact! pic.twitter.com/lI5HPPql2m
— Cheers Geoff (@Cheers_geoff) January 23, 2015
Catalonia is to Spain, similar to what Scotland is to the UK – an uneasy alliance that’s looking less and less useful by the day. In 2014, they held an unofficial referendum for independence which saw over 80% of participants voting in favour (although there was hardly a substantial turnout), but this was declared void and illegal by the Spanish central government. Undaunted, Catalan separatists are hoping for a fresh referendum this year and have already made steps to put in place the infrastructure for Catalonia to be a separate state.
For getting through that, here’s a video of Messi, being Messi:
To bring us, gratefully, back to football: Barcelona as (more than) a club has always prided itself on being “of the people”, namely the people of Catalonia and so it has for many people represented Catalonia on the world stage through that beloved medium of football. Countless players, coaches, board members and managers have associated themselves with the independence movement in Catalonia. Fans will routinely sing separatist songs at matches and wave Catalan flags, add that to the fact that Barcelona’s world famous motto “més que un club” is in the Catalan language, rather than Spanish (even if it is only one letter out).
In contrast, Real Madrid have long represented, either willingly or not, the centrist’s view that Catalonia is and always will be a part of Spain. And this has inevitably spilled out onto the football pitch and added a dimension to the rivalry that is practically unparalleled in sport.
So what would happen, then, if Catalonia actually left Spain? Javier Tebas, the president of the Football Association in Spain, has previously said that if Catalonia were to leave Spain, then Barcelona would not be allowed to play in the Spanish leagues. Take this with a pinch of salt, though, since the impact on the Spanish league would be immense. Take one of the biggest clubs in the world out of a so-called “two-team league” and what remains?
There’s always the thorny option of Barcelona joining the French League, but could PSG v Barcelona really replace El Clasico? Then there’s the Portuguese League, but who really wants to see them trounce the likes of Arouca, every week? Or even a separate Catalonian League, where we could enjoy Espanyol v Barcelona 20 times a season (sorry, Girona fans).
Basically, La Liga needs Barcelona and Barcelona needs La Liga – like Harry Redknapp needs the sweet, sweet taste of a bargain January deadline day transfer.
Harry Redknapp excited for Transfer Deadline Day pic.twitter.com/q6Hl6g1MsM
— Darren Farley (@DFImpressionist) August 31, 2016
Whatever happens in Catalonia in the next few years, I expect we’ll see plenty more vociferous derbies between Barcelona and Real Madrid.`