By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It has already been dubbed a 'two-team league'. Only Barcelona and Real Madrid have won the Primera Division title since 2004 (when Valencia were crowned champions), and with Spain's prime pair seemingly stronger than ever, that doesn't look likely to change any time soon. So what would happen, then, should Catalunya win independence from Spain?
Catalans head to the polls on Sunday to vote in their national elections, with governing party Convergence and Union (CiU) expected to return to power with a comfortable majority. And in a time of economic crisis across Spain, Catalan leader Artur Mas is urging voters to push for independence; should they win the 68-seat majority they are seeking to govern without the support of six other parties expected to win seats, a referendum on secession could follow next year - even though this has been described as 'anti-constitutional' by central Spain.
Opinion polls suggest around half of Catalans want independence. Those include former Barca boss Pep Guardiola, who showed his support for a split from Spain by sending a message from New York as Catalans marched in favour of secession on their national day, La Diada, and club president Sandro Rosell, who took part in that same rally on September 11.
The Barca players, however, have been more diplomatic, fully aware that a pro-independence stance could harm their reputation within the Spanish national team. Questioned recently by RAC1, Gerard Pique chose his words carefully: "I sincerely believe that, to begin with, it would make Catalunya and Spain weaker. Separation would weaken the two territories. After that, I don't know what would happen. We don't know."
And that is indeed the concern for Catalans - the future is uncertain. To start with, at least, Catalunya would be unable to join the European Union, and exclusion would have huge effects on its economy. Only after years of struggle could the region reclaim its current status, although eventually - according to the Financial Times and other leading economists - it could go on to become the richest state in southern Europe.
But what of Barca and La Liga? Rosell claimed in September that the Catalan club would continue in Spain's top flight, even if the region were to win independence, but current rules mean Barca would be ineligible to participate in the Primera should secession succeed, because only teams that form part of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) are allowed to compete in domestic competitions.
So Barca - and other Catalan clubs like Espanyol - would need to either apply for membership of a nearby Federation such as Aragon or Valencia, or come to a special agreement with the RFEF, as Andorra has done - the Principality's football team competes in Spain's Segunda B.
Either way, Barcelona's participation in La Liga remains in the best interests of both parties; the Catalans' exclusion from the Primera Division would mean Real Madrid would be left without a rival of the same stature, similar to the situation in Scotland with Celtic following Rangers' demotion to the fourth tier, while the Blaugrana would face very little competition in a local league against the likes of Espanyol, Girona, Lleida and Nastic Tarragona. Barca, of course, could come to an agreement to play in another competition such as France, but both they and Madrid would lose out by separation in football terms.
- Gerard Pique
And financially, providing an agreement can be reached between Catalan clubs and the RFEF, there should be no ramifications, either. "[The Spanish league] is one of the world's best-selling competitions," Mas said recently. "Television rights would be affected without Barcelona, and Real Madrid would be the only team with a big impact left - but without a rival."
So while independence is thought by many to be in the best interests of Catalunya in the long term, separation on the football field is unlikely to happen, even though most of Spain's sides would prefer their Catalan cousins to stay Spanish. Whatever happens, then, Tito Vilanova's team are likely to remain in La Liga for the foreseeable future and the Primera Division, as we know it, will remain intact. If Catalunya can claim independence, though, one thing is for certain: all of the other teams will be desperate to beat Barcelona.
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