(By Simon Harris) Although it may not appear central to the debate on Catalan independence, football in general and FC Barcelona in particular not only affect people emotionally but also move millions of euros so what will happen to Catalan teams after independence is of great interest to many people.
In this article, I consider the future of domestic football competitions in Catalonia and Spain and will deal with the international teams in a separate article.
How Is Spanish Football Organised Now?
At a national level, Spanish football is run by two bodies – the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional or LFP and the Real Federación Española de Futbol or RFEF.
The RFEF was founded in 1913 and is the Spanish Football Federation. It’s Spanish Football’s governing body and runs the Spain National Team, the Copa del Rey or King’s Cup and oversees Segunda B and the regional federations.
Although La Liga has existed as a competition since 1928, the LFP as a semi-independent organisation under RFEF umbrella wasn’t created until 1984. It runs the two professional divisions – Primera and Segunda A.
Amateur football is run by a separate federation in each autonomous community affiliated to the RFEF. The Catalan Federation is the Federació Catalana de Futbol or FCF.
FC Barcelona and La Liga
For many years I’ve joked that the only reason that I could think for Catalunya not being independent was that they’d throw us out La Liga and to be perfectly honest life just wouldn’t be worth living without a regular dose of Barça v Madrid Clásicos. However, the more I think about it the less likely I think it is to happen.
The prime consideration is money. Because Spain doesn’t want Catalunya to break free, there’s been a lot of scaremongering about the economic effects and how much Catalunya’s economy would suffer as an independent state. If trade between Catalunya and Spain came to an abrupt end then the Catalan economy would suffer immensely but then so would Spain’s.
The same thing goes for football. A Liga Catalana with the big game being Barça v Espanyol backed by the likes of Girona FC, CE Sabadell and recently promoted Llagostera along with Gimnàstic de Tarragona, CE Europa and my beloved UE Sant Andreu, with all due respect, would be competetively lacking not only for me but for fans worldwide and consequently, for sponsors and television companies.
Similarly, a Liga without FC Barcelona would also be adversely affected and attendance figures and television audiences would drop spectacularly. In fact arch-rivals Real Madrid, if they could put their Spanish nationalism to one side, would have plenty of financial reasons to vote in favour of Barça staying in La Liga as would many other clubs.
Furthermore, despite Atlético’s impressive season, La Liga is already criticised for being an unfair two horse race between Barcelona and Madrid and without the Catalans it would be even less competitive and with a vastly higher budget than anyone else, would inevitably end up being dominated by Real Madrid. A less competive Liga would be much less interesting to Spanish and international fans, many of whom support or at least sympathise with Barça, so would also affect attendances, audiences and revenues.
At this point in time, though, the rules of the LFP require all participating teams to be members of the Real Federación Española de Futbol. Obviously, as Catalunya would be a sovereign state Barça, and Espanyol for that matter, would be members of the FCF and at the time of writing couldn’t play in La Liga. However, given the amount of money involved, I think it’s highly likely that the rules would be changed and UEFA and FIFA would turn a blind eye possibly using Monaco, who play in the French League, as a precedent.
Many doubters cite UEFA’s refusal to allow Celtic and Rangers to join the English Premier League because they belong to the Scottish Federation with its own national side. However, Welsh sides Cardiff City, Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Town, Newport County, Swansea City and Wrexham all choose to be members of the English Football Association rather than the Football Association of Wales so are eligible to play in the English Premier League.
I can’t help thinking that in the case of FC Barcelona, money considerations would rule the day, particularly as they are already members. In many respects, the situation is similar to whether or not Catalonia would remain a member of the European Union or not. I think the status quo will prevail in both cases but just to be on the safe side, I have heard rumours that Barcelona directors have sounded out both the French Ligue and the Premier League about the possibility of joining should they be ejected from La Liga.
What is very clear is that neither FC Barcelona nor RCD Espanyol would participate in the Copa del Rey, and consequently, the Copa Catalunya, which already exists, would take on more importance as the Catalan national knock-out competition.
Segunda A and Segunda B
Whilst reasonably confident that Barcelona and Espanyol, the teams currently competing in Primera, would remain in La Liga, the situation gets a lttle more complicated when we consider the lower divisions.
At the moment, Barcelona B, Girona FC, CE Sabadell and newly-promoted Llagostera play in the Spanish Second Division Segunda A, and RCD Espanyol often come perilously close to being relegated. Segunda A is also controlled by the LFP so while they remain in the second category I suspect the same rules as described above would apply. However, all of them have had spells in lower divisions in recent years and this where doubts set in.
The current Segunda B is effectively a regional third division and Catalan clubs, such as the mighty UE Sant Andreu, play alongside teams from Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Aragón. This would be replaced by a strengthened Catalan First Division and the current extraordinarily complicated play-off system that permits promotion and relegation between Segunda A and B would have to be adapted to include the Catalan teams.
Another alternative might be the creation of a Spanish Super League whose only Catalan representatives would be Barça and Espanyol. In this case, all the other Catalan teams would compete in a much more competitive Catalan First Division. This would actually make a lot of economic sense as one of the difficulties of the smaller clubs is the cost of travelling to away games in other parts of Spain.