Thursday 14 December 2017

Barcelona and Real Madrid's annual Copa del Rey argument has started

Ed Malyon

Childish, embarrassing and, most depressingly, annual.

Yes, it's that time of year again where the Spanish football association must battle with its clubs to decide where the Copa del Rey final can be held.

A decision that should be simple - pick the largest, most convenient stadium that both teams agree to - becomes a petty cold war between septuagenarians who should know better.

For surprise finalists Alaves, they are delighted just to be playing on the biggest stage and they appreciate that opponents Barcelona will not be easy to beat.

The Catalans are defending champions after beating Sevilla at the Vicente Calderón last May, a game held at Atletico's home after Real Madrid managed to - accidentally, of course - hastily schedule a Bruce Springsteen concert for the Bernabeu.

Real Madrid's stadium is the biggest in the capital and a natural place to stage a Copa final in which Los Blancos are not playing, but the pettiness of Spanish football is such that Florentino Perez and his board move heaven and earth to prevent Barcelona playing a cup final there just in case they win it.

The front pages of all the major Spanish sports dailies on Thursday mention, in some form, this year's battle. Indeed the cover of SPORT, a Barcelona-based publication, reports that Barcelona will tell Alaves to propose the Bernabeu as a venue.

The point-scoring at this stage involves Barcelona desperately trying to schedule the game for their arch rivals' home while Real Madrid do everything possible to avoid that scenario, most likely some sort of refurbishment work that happens to begin on that date.

Real Madrid have so successfully blocked their ground from being used that the only final played there in the last 10 years was their own match-up with cross-town rivals Atletico. Barca, finalists in five of the last six years, have never been able to get their wish.

In geographical terms, Athletic Club's San Mames ground, in Bilbao, would have been ideally situated for the upcoming final but a concert that week means it is an unlikely venue.

There may be a get-out this year in a repeat final at the Calderón, principally because it is scheduled to be the final game at Atleti's old stadium and will no doubt be seen as a fitting send-off for a fine old ground.

So while we expect that to be the resolution, and it will provide a stadium of decent capacity in a neutral city for the two finalists, we're unlikely to see the conclusion of the matter until all sides have acted out their petty agendas via proxy.

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