A sideways look at Spanish football
The Spanish FA must wonder why they even bother with the Copa del Rey, as each time the final is played, there seems to be some kind of chronically awful kerfuffle in the match’s organisation.
This is especially so this year, with the process of arranging the final beginning really badly, getting even worse and then descending into abstract silliness, with a slanging match across four corners of Spain over what constitutes freedom of expression.
The stumbling, bumbling FA got themselves into their first pickle with what should have been the simple task of organising when and where the final was going to take place. It proved to be a bit of an ordeal, with it being impossible to find a date in the normal season due to Barcelona’s participation in the Champions League semis, Athletic Bilbao’s Europa League adventure and what had been a spare midweek being used to reschedule the first round of la Liga which was postponed due to a players’ strike.
Once a date had been set for the match two weeks after the end of the regular season, the problem was then finding a venue. The logical choice was the Santiago Bernabeu, as Real Madrid had long been knocked out and the 82,000 capacity stadium would be more than handy. Unfortunately, the venue was to be out of action on the date of the final due to important repair works to seats and toilets. It’s an excuse poo-pooed in both Barcelona and Bilbao, where the suggestion is that the snub was down to Madrid not wanting their stadium to be used for a farewell party for Pep or a big Basque celebration. Yet exciting snaps published in AS this week show bogs being carried into the Bernabeu, which would appear to confirm Real Madrid’s story.
The Vicente Calderón was eventually given the honour of hosting Friday night’s event, but only after a brand new pitch was laid this week after the previous one was churned up during a Coldplay gig last week. The work was completed on Tuesday, meaning the 'bedding in' period for the new playing surface will be just three days. Fortunately, its only a bunch of Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao players risking the ankles on the turf, so no impact whatsoever to Spain’s European Championship chances should any injuries take place.
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Technically the likes of Andrés Iniesta and Fernando Llorente shouldn’t have even be there, as Saturday sees Spain's first warm-up game against Serbia, which takes place in Austria - another absolute howler from the Spanish FA in the national side’s preparations for a tournament they are trying to defend.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Spanish nationalist politics and freedom of expression were thrown into the mix when the not exactly media-shy head of the Community of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, said that if the national anthem were to be booed ahead of the Copa del Rey final, the game should be stopped immediately, rescheduled and then played behind closed doors. Aguirre was referring to an incident in a final between the same two teams in Mestalla three years ago, when groups of supporters of both clubs booed the Spanish anthem.
However, the Madrid head has only ensured that even more supporters than before are going to join in a heck of a din, not that a discussion on the monarchy and Spain was Aguirre’s intention. “The problem is that we have such mediocre, such populist, such unprofessional politicians that use the media platform for cheap demagoguery,” ranted the ever-reliable Sport columnist Luis Mascaró, who also notes quite rightly that “in a society riven by speculation, corruption and economic crisis, politicians should be dedicating themselves to what’s really important.”
Aguirre’s words caused terse responses from all over Spain, especially in the Basque Country and Catalonia where they are never going to turn down the chance for a squabble. Even Barcelona president Sandro Rosell got involved, expressing a desire that “all Culés can freely express their feelings at the final.”
All this, combined with the fact the final is taking place when people are forgetting the Primera campaign and taking a breather ahead of the Euros, sees a bit of a strangely subdued atmosphere ahead of a game that will need to be a corker if the season isn't going to end with something of a damp squib.
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