Barcelona, Real Madrid, and accusations of being Franco's 'regime club'
Tensions boiling between clásico rivals as Madrid respond to Laporta comments with incendiary and selective video
Tensions between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are rising to levels not seen in a long time.
Following Barça president Joan Laporta's comments about the Madrid club on Monday, los blancos posted a video on Monday night to social media linking the Catalan outfit to the fascist Franco dictatorship.
Laporta spoke to the press for two hours on Monday about the so-called Negreira case, the referee payments scandal enveloping the club over the past two months. While giving the club's explanations for the payments, Laporta also took aim at his eternal rival, Madrid, for their behavior in presenting themselves as private prosecutors as a harmed party in the case.
The Barça president dubbed Madrid the "regime club," and said that for 70 years, the referees' technical committee has been presided over by former members, players, or directors of Real Madrid. "They have always been favored by referees," the president said, dubbing their involvement in the case as an "exercise in cynicism without precedent."
In response to these comments, Real Madrid published a video on social media that immediately sparked outrage.
The video opens with Laporta's comments before turning to images of the inauguration of Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium in 1957, an event in which Franco-era minister, José Solís Ruiz, took part. The stands are packed to see a religious ceremony open the new stadium – the Catholic church was also an integral element of the Franco dictatorship.
Some selected facts from the Franco era are then read out, including FC Barcelona awarding Francisco Franco various honors down the years, the blaugrana being 'saved' from bankruptcy three times by Franco, and the Catalan club winning eight leagues and nine cups during the dictatorship.
How were FC Barcelona affected by the Franco dictatorship?
Barça, like all of Catalan society in general, experienced repression during the dictatorship. The club had to change name from the original 'Football Club Barcelona' to the more Spanish-sounding 'Club de Fútbol Barcelona.' The Catalan language was prohibited in public space, and Catalan symbols were removed from the club crest.
FC Barcelona as an institution was essentially hijacked during the dictatorship, as were basically all institutions in life at the time, with positions of power in football clubs, businesses, political councils, and practically all aspects of society replaced with figures sympathetic to the regime. Those who were not Franco supporters were subject to persecution, as Franco introduced the Law of Political Responsibilities to target those who were deemed enemies of the regime.
All of this important context is omitted from Real Madrid's video when they point out that the club, under the control of the Franco regime, honored Franco. In 2019, those honors were officially removed after a fans' vote.
In fact, the president of FC Barcelona when the civil war broke out, Josep Sunyol, was actually murdered without trial by Franco forces. Sunyol was active on the Republican side of the war and accidentally traveled behind enemy lines outside Republican-held Madrid, and it's likely his killing has more to do with his political activity than his sporting role.
Barça's website has a complete history of the presidents of the past, and details their involvement with the Franco regime, presenting the history as it is. Real Madrid's equivalent page on their website, meanwhile, decidedly omits their communist Republican president, Antonio Ortega, who presided over the club during the years of the civil war.
FC Barcelona won eight league titles and nine cups under Franco, as Madrid's video points out. During the dictatorship, Madrid won 14 league titles and six cups, to add to their six European Cups won in the 1950s and 1960s – a string of success that has gone on to become the bedrock of their very identity. If the point of the video was to connect winning titles with being part of the regime, that may have been a miscalculated strategy.
It took Real Madrid 15 years to win the first of those leagues under Franco, the video adds, in a thinly veiled suggestion that they were withheld from success by the fascist regime. The video adds that many of Madrid's best players from the era were lost to the war: many Republican Madrid figures had either died, were arrested, or went into exile. This fact would also go a long way to explaining why it took Madrid some time after the war to get back on their feet in a competitive sense.
The 1943 cup semi-final is a chapter in the clásico rivalry that will always be remembered in infamy. Barcelona had won the first leg 3-0, and had one foot in the final but, remarkably, Real Madrid won the second leg 11-1. Barça players and members of the coaching staff later claimed they were threatened by police before the game, and it seems the atmosphere surrounding the game was such that the team felt they were not supposed to truly compete in the match. However, with the passing of time, it will forever be impossible to prove whether or not there were explicit threats made.
What does this mean for the Super League?
Relations between Barcelona and Real Madrid are now institutionally very fractured. Apart from the regular rivalry that has always been present, Madrid are now putting themselves forward as a harmed party in an ongoing criminal corruption case against Barcelona. During the last two clásico games, Madrid president Florentino Pérez rejected sitting in the directors box with his counterpart, Joan Laporta.
But the clásico clubs make up two of the three remaining Super League partners as well as Italian side Juventus, a competition which holds the intention of breaking away from UEFA and organizing its own continental-level annual football tournament. Cooperation and good faith would likely be essential elements required to get a new breakaway tournament off the ground which could have the potential to uproot the foundations of football across the continent permanently.
On Monday, Laporta said he was still in favor of pushing ahead with the Super League idea, as to him it represents "sustainability" for the future of the club, offering them more ways of competing with other clubs with greater resources, meaning, without explicitly saying it, state-owned clubs.
Florentino Pérez has always struck a similar tone when speaking about the reasons he feels the Super League is necessary, but it seems difficult to imagine the clubs finding common ground to start such an enormous venture together in the current climate of tension between them.
'Indecent fake news': Catalan government responds
The Catalan government has responded to Real Madrid's social media video, criticizing it as "indecent fake news."
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, government spokesperson Patrícia Plaja said that the video was a "gross manipulation of history," and said that the Madrid club should apologize for the post.