The Spanish national team capped off a third successive major tournament win in style, beating Italy 4-0. Meanwhile, Andres Iniesta was named the player of the tournament, and an additional 5 other Cules were named in the team of the tournament (Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Gerard Pique, and Jordi Alba).
For those who don't know, there are political tensions in Spain because Catalonia (the region where Barcelona is located) has longed for independence (the issues are out of the scope of this football blog post, if you'd like more information this is a decent start). FC Barcelona has at times been a symbol for this movement, or at least for Catalan pride. It poses an interesting hypothetical question: in an alternate history where Catalonia's national team played tournaments and not just friendlies, could they experience similar success?
While La Roja were the best team in the tournament by a good margin, the Catalan team would perhaps struggle to replace some Spanish aces. But would Catalonia still have enough firepower to lift the cup? And would certain star players agree to join the Catalan team, even if they had not been born in Catalonia? Who would manage them?
I've decided to go try to answer some of these questions, as well as creating worse case and best case teams. Let's start with the best case, where key players who may play for Catalonia choose to do so: I ignored players where I think it would be possible for them to join, but highly unlikely - like Thiago Motta or Giovani Dos Santos. (I'm also going with the interpretation of just Catalonia being independent, not the "Catalan countries" - this is the way the unofficial national team plays.)
Subs: Reina, Kiko Casilla, Capdevila, Muniesa, Bartra, Javi Lopez, Romeu, Thiago, Verdu, Cuenca, Tello, Bojan
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola assumes the role of Catalonia's leader, as he decides club football is too hectic but the part-time job that is managing a national team is just right. Inspired by the independence of a region with a rich cultural history, foreign Barcelona products join the legendary coach in the quest for the Euro. Spanish player Pepe Reina joins, igniting a fierce debate over whether he should start over Victor Valdes. Lionel Messi's love for his teammates trumps his national origin as he becomes Catalonia's undisputed star. The Castilian Andres Iniesta joins his longtime accomplice Xavi for yet another mission. Finally, Thiago Alcantara spurns Italy, Brazil, and Spain to play with other La Masia graduates. Another longtime Barcelona associate, the Canarian Pedro joins with his threatening runs on the wing. The most unheralded of coups is Javi Lopez, the Espanyol B product is originally from Seville.
Pep chooses a 4-3-3 with Espanyol's Raul Rodriguez replacing injured captain Carles Puyol in defense, partnering Gerard Pique. Xavi assumes the captain's armband, playing in the middle of the park. Soon to be Cule Jordi Alba flies down the left and Barcelona B ace Martin Montoya flies down the right. Sergio Busquets takes up the defensive midfield position, willing to drop into defense to form a back three.
In attack, Iniesta plays on the left with Pedro on the right, both looking to cut in. Messi plays his trademark false nine position, interchanging with Cesc Fabregas, who plays the "false ten" role.
Projected result: Winners
While Spain sometimes lacked the killer touch, Catalonia has it in spades as Messi is supported by his club teammates en route to the Catalans winning the title. Catalonia visibly misses Puyol, but Rodriguez does a fine job coming off a good season at Espanyol. Meanwhile, Montoya and Alba are revelations, giving width and pace to an extremely technical Catalan midfield. Xavi lifts the cup and Pep Guardiola continues to complete his resume.
Now onto the worst case scenario...
Subs: Kiko Casilla, Miño, Capdevila, Muniesa, Bartra, Didac, Romeu, Cristian Gomez, Sergi Roberto, Sergio Garcia, Bojan, Alvaro
Manager: Johan Cruyff
In this case, I assume no one who was not born in Catalonia would represent the team (this is probably more realistic). The first seven players are unchanged, but the loss of Iniesta and Messi is massive. Cesc becomes the striker in the team like he did for Spain in the Euro. Espanyol's Joan Verdu is there to try to retain the ball and thread passes to the forwards, one who is Isaac Cuenca, who drifts wide when Iniesta would have gone iniside more.
The rather small nation of Catalonia has a depth issue, relying even more on Espanyol bench players or Barcelona B players. There is no obvious bench player to play as an attacking midfielder, although Cesc can drop in there and Catalonia can put someone else upfront. With Javi Lopez out, there is no right-back on the bench either. I don't believe there is a suitable replacement right-back with enough talent and experience, so I decided to call up Didac and hope either him or Capdevila can sort it out on the right if something happens to Montoya. It should be fine, after all, Spain went without much backup for Jordi Alba and they turned out OK.
Johan Cruyff leads the team as Pep takes a break from football. Cruyff manages Catalonia's FIFA-unofficial national team and was a previous manager of Barcelona. Despite being Dutch, his Total Football skills and ideals have contributed immensely to the philosophical and spiritual development of Catalan football.
Bojan, despite not having a great season at Roma, will feature quite a good amount as his flexibility to play in any position upfront will make him a very good sub option. Tello and Cuenca will repeat their roles as Barcelona's young wingmen.
Projected result: Contenders
Catalonia miss the majesty of Messi, and they miss Iniesta's amazing skill and clutch performances. They would also miss Pedro's goalscoring and pace. The bench would take a hit, too, losing the services of Thiago, Reina and Javi Lopez as their already thin team will thin more. Still quite a young team, this may not be the tournament for them just yet, even though their best player, Xavi, is feeling the clock tick on his magisterial career.
One of their main competitors, ironically, would be Spain. This is Spain minus Catalan-born players:
Spain's incredibly deep midfield would still feel the effects of not having Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, and possibly Iniesta or Pedro, but they have more than capable replacements. With David Silva in the middle, Jesus Navas might take his spot on the right. On the other side, if Iniesta does not play for Spain, we could see Juan Mata or Santi Cazorla. Equally you could see Cazorla on the right with Mata on the left, or Cazorla in the middle with Silva on the left and Navas on the right or... any other combination. In defense, Albiol replaces Pique, while Nacho Monreal is my pick to be Spain's left back in place of Jordi Alba. Fernando Torres would take Cesc's spot in attack for good.
Spain would not only take a few significant downgrades in the starting XI, but their famed depth might as well. Whereas Mata or Cazorla were luxuries before, they would be quite necessary for the team now. Still, some great players not called up for Euro 2012 might make it into the squad, like Iker Muniain, Roberto Soldado, and Bruno Soriano.
Spain are still a formidable opponent, but they lose some bite. At crucial points, the Catalan players swung the game in their balance at Euro 2012. Could the other Spanish players replicate these feats?
This may open the door for one of Portugal, Italy, or Germany. My conclusion: too close to call. But it would make an interesting pseudo Clasico of Catalonia vs. Spain.
What do you think? Answer in the poll, elaborate in the comments!
And remember, this is just for fun!