La Liga's controversial move continues to make headlines
It's been a couple of weeks since La Liga announced the news that they will be playing one league game a season over in the USA, starting immediately. It's a move that's really raised eyebrows across the footballing world, with many getting worried that it could set a new precedent going forward. Over the years we've seen rumours of the Premier League playing a '39th game' over in the States, which caused huge uproar but now a major league has decided to take the plunge. In terms of popularity and demand, La Liga is far behind the English top flight so in making the move they're hoping that they can compete with it.
It's all well and good wanting to do this but the worrying aspect of it all is how it affects the fans going forward. We all know how expensive it is to follow our clubs so imagine having to fly to the other side of the planet to watch a league game - it just isn't feasible for the majority of each clubs fan bases.
And what's even more controversial is that the first game has now been announced - with Girona taking on Barcelona in Miami on January 27th. The implications from this selection have been huge and we're expecting plenty more fall out, with fans of Girona in particular disgusted that their biggest home game of the season is now in another country. This is one of 4 Catalonian derbies over the course of the La Liga season and the decision for this fixture to be played away from there looks more and more like one that's been orchestrated by the Spanish government - read more below..
Footballing or Political Decision?
Choosing this fixture has come as a surprise to many people and it's caused some serious friction in Catalonia. Over the last couple of years there's been various independence campaigns and protests to breakaway from Spain which has resulted in some very ugly scenes and 'unwarranted' arrests. At the start of the year we saw riots outbreak in Barcelona as campaigners clashed with police and it's a matter that's far from it's conclusion. This is massive news across the whole of Spain and it's got plenty of high profile supporters - with the likes of Pep Guardiola and Gerard Pique not afraid to hide their opinions on the matter. Spain has never been torn like this since the Civil War (1936-1939) and La Liga's actions really aren't going to help solve this issue when Girona and Barcelona face off in Miami.
Girona and Barcelona are two of three Catalonian based clubs in La Liga which means that their derby will no longer take part in the region and the way that the Spanish FA are dealing with it is really boiling the blood of the supporters and residents. It's recently been announced that no Catalan flags will be allowed at the match and a HUGE 40,000 Spanish flags will be provided inside the stadium for the supporters - very much branding this an all Spanish affair as opposed to the derby that it is.
This decision is clearly one that's been made behind the scenes by the Spanish government in an attempt to undermine the Catalonian independence campaign and it's really going to be interesting to see what stance the clubs take. Should they both boycott the trip to the States it would send out a massive message to both the government and FA, whilst possibly taking a financial hit and a points deduction in the process. It's absolutely bizarre that they want a Catalonian derby to be played with no flags or mention of the region, so the powers that be are clearly banking on no or few supporters making the trip over to Miami.
No disrespect to Girona but as one of the smallest and newest clubs to La Liga, their fan base is nothing compared to that of Barcelona and with plenty of fans of the latter already in the States, they'll will be hopeful that the locals will be getting firmly behind the game whilst waving these controversial Spanish flags. If this is a success for La Liga then it could be the start of something huge, so they'll be desperate to brand this an all Spanish affair and get some good publicity for the country.
Good or bad for Spanish football?
It's easy to see the reasons behind La Liga's decision to branch out into the American market. They're firmly aware of how the Premier League is the most popular league in world football and the money that it generates is mind boggling - so La Liga clearly want a piece of the action. The extra exposure could have huge implications on the demand for Spanish football and it's really going to be interesting to see how it all works out, but many are struggling to come to terms with it.
Girona's home clash with Barcelona is now set to take place in Miami at the end of January and it's mixed situation for the club. By moving it to the States, Girona miss out on their biggest home game of the season and it means that many of their supporters who've already bought season tickets won't be able to make it. The club are rumoured to be making around €4m by playing in America - but at what cost does that money come into the club?
Season ticket holders of the club are set to be offered a series of options to help compensate them for missing that encounter which include:
Free flights for 1500 supporters to go to the game and free hotels to stay overnight.
Fans who don't go will be offered one of 5000 tickets to the reverse meeting at the Nou Camp in September along with a 20% refund on their season ticket.
Or those supporters who don't want to do either of the above options will be given a huge 40% refund on their season ticket - a big number which reiterates just how important this game is to them who buy the tickets.
It's good to see the fans being offered plenty of forms of compensation which is the least they deserve, but the point still stands that they're being incredibly unfairly treated by moving a huge home game abroad. Those views are also echoed by a host of current La Liga players, with Spain & Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos suggesting that players could 'go on strike' over the plans to play in the States.
Barcelona's revised game with Girona takes place in January and it's just as clubs around Europe begin to enter an incredibly busy period of the season. They return to domestic action following the international break and also have the small matter of the Champions League to attend to - so we can't imagine that the powers that be at the club are too impressed the decision to play the fixture at this time either.
All-in-all, this move was supposed to be built on improving the Spanish game, making La Liga THE go-to league in European football and competing with the Premier League. But the recent news has clearly made the selection of this figure something clearly politically based, with the Spanish government seeing it as an opportunity to belittle and damage the Catalonian campaign for independence. With plenty of time to go there's still time for the situation to change but thing for sure is that the supporters of each club that do actually travel will be desperate to show their allegiance to their region, so watch this space.