FC Barcelona has been anything but a neutral bystander on the question of Catalan independence in recent years.
It has firmly nailed its colours to the mast of the movement planning a referendum on the issue on 1 October – a referendum declared illegal by the central government in Madrid.
But its position has raised more pressing questions as the situation has become more heated, with militarised Civil Guard police dispatched to arrest pro-secessionist officials and seize referendum materials.
Wouldn’t an independent Catalonia deprive Spain’s La Liga of one of its most prestigious clubs?
And what about the fans of the world-famous El Clásico grudge matches between Barça and arch-rival Real Madrid, a series in which the latter is tantalisingly just ahead on 95 victories to 91?
Those in charge at FC Barcelona insist they are not politicians; the club neither has an position on voting Yes for independence, nor in which league it would compete in the hypothetical situation of Catalonia seceding from Spain.
But in 2014 FC Barcelona joined the National Pact on the Right to Decide, a platform comprising political parties and civil society organisations in favour of a referendum on independence for Catalonia.
On Wednesday, as the Civil Guard were arresting Catalan government officials, the club released perhaps its most blatantly political statement ever, saying it was defending “democracy, freedom of speech, and self-determination”.
Whatever happens over the next few weeks and months, FC Barcelona seems to believe that it will always be able to choose which league it plays in. Even if Catalans opted to leave Spain, Barça believes that Spain will never want to stop watching El Clásico.
“We will stay in the same league as Espanyol,” said FC Barcelona’s vice-president, Carles Villarubí, earlier this month in reference to the Catalan capital’s second club, whose fans are considered to be pro-Spanish.
But Javier Tebas, the president of Spain’s Professional Football League, which organises La Liga, struck back: “Barcelona cannot choose where it plays if there is an independence process in Catalonia.”
- FC Barcelona has won 24 La Liga titles, including the inaugural tournament in 1929.
- It has also won 29 Copa del Rey national cups, more than any other club.
- There have been 235 official games between Barcelona and Real Madrid, stretching back to a Copa del Rey match in 1916. Real have won 95, Barça 91 and 46 have ended in draws.
A well-placed source inside the club has told the BBC that there will be no official statements on what remains purely a “hypothetical scenario”.
But, the source added: “If the situation of Catalan independence arose, the club would have to take into account the opinion of its members before making such an important decision.
“Secondly, and with all due respect, we believe we are one of the leading brands in world football and any league would be eager to have us, including Spain’s.”
Gabriel Rufián, a member of Spain’s Congress for the Catalan Republican Left party, said that Barça’s continued presence in the Spanish league would be no more incongruous than Monaco playing in the French league.
Few people seem willing to contemplate a Catalan national league dominated by one of the world’s biggest clubs. The idea of Lionel Messi taking on semi-professional Catalan defenders each Sunday does not bear thinking about.
“I cannot imagine the Spanish Liga without Barcelona,” said Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane. “I just can’t see it as a fan of football and of sport in general.”