Barcelona and Alaves will play in the May decider
"You can’t start a fire without a spark."
You certainly can’t and if ever you are in need of one, just look to Real Madrid and Barcelona. Even when the two teams are not in direct competition, they are trying to get at each other’s throats, lobbying for sympathy or creating controversy from the most menial of situations.
For the second week in a row, a football stadium is at the centre of a politicised war in Spanish football. Last weekend, it was what Celta Vigo could have done to ensure their game with Real Madrid went ahead despite the fact that their stadium was falling apart after a brutal storm battered Galicia. This week?
The matter of where the Copa del Rey 2017 will be held? You’re probably wondering why I quote Bruce Springsteen on the opening paragraph without explaining why. This is almost like deja vu and the reason for Springsteen’s inclusion is, it would take The Boss to decide where last season’s Copa final was held, or at least where it would not be held. He announced he would be playing in the Santiago Bernabeu on May 21st when the game was scheduled to be played. Real Madrid, previously kicked out for fielding an illegible player, had a perfect excuse not to allow Barcelona win the King’s Cup in their backyard.
Forget perfectly scored goals that have been disallowed due to incompetence and the magic of the cup on display with minnows Alaves making it to the final. Spanish football’s top dogs prefer to focus on their involvement in a proxy war over where the game should be played. This year, just like last year, Barcelona will want the game to be played in a stadium with the biggest capacity to maximise revenue and in a place that is comfortable for travelling fans to get to.
Alaves want to play it at the new San Mames, which has 25,000 fewer seats than the Bernabeu, but that idea has been scuppered by Axl Rose and Guns N’Roses, who play there three days after the Copa del Rey final. Alaves have not competed in a final since 2001 when Liverpool beat them 5-4 in the UEFA Cup and they have experienced some dark moments as a club since then. This is their moment in the sun, to feel important, separate from the rest. But they are just a side bit in what many consider the real show.
While Bruce Springsteen is not currently on tour, and won’t be able to step in to save the day this time, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez says "There will be no chance of playing the Copa final between FC Barcelona and Alaves at the Santiago Bernabeu because there are works going on. There is no other issue.”
Many speculated as to what the "works" were. Light-bulbs being fixed? Toilets being renovated?
To their credit, Real Madrid had previously stated that they do intend to start works on the Santiago Bernabeu after they finish the season at home against Sevilla, but Barcelona’s insistence on forcing Real Madrid to turn it down is childish, petty and perfectly in tune with the relationship, or lack thereof, that the pair share.
Alaves celebrate reaching the Copa del Rey Final. Picture by Alvaro Barrientos AP/Press Association Images
The Copa del Rey holds significant heartbreak for Real Madrid. Although they have won the competition 19 times, enough for third on the all-time list (not good enough for Real Madrid, who want to be first on every list), they have also been runners-up 20 times. The last time they hosted a Copa del Rey final? They lost to Atletico Madrid in 2013 after extra-time. Prior to that, they were defeated by Deportivo la Coruna in 2002 at their own ground. It will also be the 20th anniversary of Barcelona’s Copa win against Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu. The last time before that? Atletico beat Real Madrid 1992. The Santiago Bernabeu and the Copa del Rey do not mix, or when they do, it is not to the benefit of Real Madrid.
They were also kicked out of the competition last year for fielding Denis Cheryshev when he was ineligible due to a yellow card suspension he picked up they year before when on loan at Villarreal - played at the Bernabeu too. If there is anything Florentino Perez hates more than not winning, it's watching someone else winning in his stadium.
In a competition that they have felt their fair share of upset, Real Madrid don’t want it anywhere near their premises and maybe Perez is waiting for Real to make it to a final, and win it (at home?), before he unlocks the gates to their stadium to Barcelona for a final.
In an effort to reach some point of maturity and take away confusion, maybe the Spanish football federation - the RFEF - should pick the stadium based on what they think is an ideal location, and pick it before the finalists are decided. Once that is solved, we can move onto the next thing Barcelona and Real Madrid find to bicker about.