English football fans might be wondering why their friendly with Spain in November has been moved from Real Madrid’s home of the Santiago Bernabeu to Alicante – but Spanish football fans know exactly why.
The answer is simple, and all about one man. Gerard Pique.
Thankfully, the Barcelona defender needs no introduction to fans of the Premier League, having played for Manchester United, won all there is to win with Barcelona – and being married to one of the biggest superstars in music, Shakira.
One fact most English fans probably don’t know about Pique however, and one that is causing the defender a fair bit of trouble at the minute, is the fact that he identifies as a Catalan – not necessarily a Spaniard.
Now without delving too deeply into the history and politics of Spain, who at one time were a country divided, and still have secular groups, people who hail from Cataluña – or even the Basque country – are not exactly fans of the Spanish capital.
Even the tag of being Spanish at all isn’t exactly welcome. Hardly surprising considering parts of their history and General Franco’s reign.
In the recent Spanish Super Copa between Barcelona, the Liga winners, and Athletic Bilbao, the Copa runners up (because Barcelona won that too), the Spanish national anthem was widely booed by both sections of the crowd. In both legs.
The Spanish capital – and Real Madrid – are not popular in certain places in Spain, and Pique proudly hails from Barcelona, and represents the Catalan national side whenever they have a fixture.
That is not news to the people of Madrid, or the rest of Spain, who identify as Spanish and are fiercely protective of their country, their national side and their anthem.
Players like Xavi and Carlos Puyol have all turned out for the Catalan side – and celebrated Spain’s World Cup win adorning a flag with the Catalan colours.
New Real Madrid signing Kiko Casilla is a proud separatist – although that did not go down well with Real Madrid fans, who booed his arrival and protested against his signing at one point.
What is new for the fans is for a player to be so vocal about their feelings.
Pique has been open on social media and in interviews with the press about his desire for an independent Cataluña, he tweets in Catalan, and not Spanish at times, and probably more vitally, has made it very clear just how he feels about Madrid.
Now let’s get one thing clear. Pique is not the only Spanish player to have called for an independent Cataluña. He is also not the only player to have gone out to a club and celebrated their recent win – yet was the only one to be booed for it by fans and castigated by the press.
Why? Well it’s simple. He might not be the only one who hails from Barcelona, but he is the only one who vocally criticises Real Madrid and their players in an almost troll like fashion – regularly.
When celebrating Barcelona’s title win at the Camp Nou, he made a joke at Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo’s expense, quipping: ‘Thanks Kevin Roldan – it all started with you!’
That was a dig at the squad for going and celebrating Ronaldo’s birthday, with the singer making an appearance at the party, which fell only hours after a massive loss to Madrid based rivals Atletico Madrid. Following that, Real fell to pieces, and ended the season trophyless.
It is not the first time Pique has made fun of Real – when Barcelona beat them 5-0, the infamous hand gesture to the crowd Pique made is still used today – and went down like a lead balloon with the Madrid based press and fans.
He was even caught on camera after the European Supercup win, saying, ‘Let’s do a victory lap, the Madridistas can go f*** themselves, let them watch.’
That, and that alone has caused the majority of the Spanish press – who could teach the Germans from the Second World War a lesson in how to conduct a propaganda campaign – to make it their mission to see that all Spanish fans criticise and boo Pique.
Not only have they done this at games, they have even turned out to training sessions to catcall the player.
He is singled out. It is the defender alone who was reported as being in a Gijon nightclub, not Sergio Ramos, Pedro, Cesc, Juanfran, David De Gea and David Silva, who were all there, with permission from the coaching staff.
While the player is thought to be unaffected by the booing and vitriol aimed in his direction at the minute, it cannot be forgotten that one of the major reasons the national side suffered so badly before their unprecedented run of success was the fact that the dressing room, the fans and the press were so divided and split.
Club loyalties and places of birth played a bigger part in that than anything else, and it took a huge effort (led by Iker Casillas and Xavi) to get the players and the fans on the same page – but the results were World Cup winning. Literally.
There are no rumours of a split in the dressing room yet, with the players united, but the fans booing one of their own players for his loyalties to Barcelona, and the Spanish media waging a war directed at one individual because of his comments and essentially, big mouth, is a recipe for disaster.
The Spanish press and fans should know that after their horrific World Cup campaign, they need to be united and all on song to defend their European Championship title – and this is not the way to start.