Everybody forgets things. Jason Bourne forgot who he was in the Bourne films, but, like troopers, the cast and crew made it work. British Prime Minister David Cameron once left one of his kids at a pub he’d been at for the afternoon. Oops! I myself went through a similar experience, frantically retracing my steps back to the pub in question, half-naked, shouting at passers-by, before realizing that in fact I don’t have any kids and that I rarely go to pubs—an anti-climax to say the least. Spain, equally embarrassingly, appear to have forgotten to qualify for the next World Cup. Their faces will be so red!
Now, okay, Spain’s forgetfulness hasn’t been punished just yet; they play France in a match they really should think about winning if they’re going to avoid a tricky play-off to reach Brazil 2014. But that’s not the point: either way, for the current World and European Champions, even the idea that they might not qualify automatically for the next World Cup marks a break from an era of difficult-to-believe dominance: they would never have forgotten to qualify a few years ago. Their coach actually read out the stats about that dominance at his last press conference (there is no need to repeat them here: we know they’re good and I simply will not be the host for sycophantic fawning). They’ve been the best team in international football for the last six years, no question, and suddenly they can’t beat Finland and are two points behind France in their qualifying group. There’s been a change.
And this is brilliant news.
It’s brilliant news for a few reasons, ranging from the reasonable to the apparently not so. I’ll include both here but I won’t tell you which is which so as to keep you on your toes. This will be either fun or tedious, but again I won’t tell which so as to reinforce the on-the-toes mentality.
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This short video from Sid Lowe on FC Barcelona’s complex relationship with the growing Catalan independence movement is drawing kudos, and it’s very interesting to hear the tantalizingly fleeting opinions on the issue from major figures like former club president Joan Laporta and former player and coach Johan Cruyff.
Barca it seems has acted as a global magnifying glass on an issue of regional identity that other leaders of burgeoning, peaceful independence movements would love to have. Imagine for example if Quebec sovereigntists had managed to hoard the fiercely-loved (particularly by this author) Montreal Canadiens in the same way. Most involved in Catalonia’s drive to some sort of independent status within Spain however have striven to remain neutral on Barca’s specific symbolic role, which has led to some increasingly vague metaphors—”Barcelona provides the background music to independence, but not the words.”
But there are some interesting issues for Barca that go beyond the sticky questions of the very popular Spanish national team, stocked as it is with players from the Camp Nou. First, as the Barca/Real Madrid rivalry has gone global, so has the nascent and often not-very-well understood relationship between Catalonia and Francoist Spain. Barca fans from far flung locales wear Catalan flags over their replica kits, and incorrectly accuse Real Madrid supporters of backing a regime that ended in 1975. The last remaining statue from that era was removed in 2005.
This kind of thing could occur more often as the Catalan movement gather steam, particularly within the current economic situation in Spain. If the region does get its unlikely wish and manages to break away from Spain, Barca tourism will become an integral part of a regional economy. Along with that comes the inevitable question of national teams.
For now however, Barcelona will continue to navigate a tricky (a)political course…