Real enter eye of political storm
AFTER watching Barcelona cope ably with the distraction of political tension sweeping across Spain in recent weeks, it is Real Madrid’s turn to head into the eye of the storm today when they travel to Girona.
It is the European champions’ first trip to Catalonia since violence marred a separatist called independence referendum for the region on October 1 that has sparked weeks of political chaos.
The atmosphere surrounding Real’s first ever top-flight visit to Girona, a heartland of pro-independence support, could be further intensified should the Spanish government follow through with plans to seize Catalonia’s autonomous powers in an attempt to stave off a declaration of independence.
But the protagonists insist they are preparing solely with the 90 minutes on the pitch in mind.
“We will have the security there as always to play a football match, nothing more,” said Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane. “We are thinking solely about the match as always and not about what could happen around it.”
As is normal on trips to Catalonia, Real will not use their official team bus for fear of reprisals.
“It won’t be the first time that this has happened and there is no need to give it any further importance,” Real’s director of institutional relations, Emilio Butragueno, said. “Real Madrid are a football club and we will only talk about the football — that is all we focus on, to win and to make our fans happy.”
Fresh from picking up Fifa’s award for the best player of 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo will be one of number of Real stars to return after being rested for Real’s Copa del Rey last 32, first leg at third-tier Fuenlabrada.
Gareth Bale once again misses out through injury, although there is hope the Welshman could return from a calf problem in time to face his old side Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Political distractions aside, Real remain in need of the points in Girona.
For their part, Girona president Delfi Geli says the match will go ahead as scheduled despite reports it could be suspended due to political unrest in Catalonia.
Local media have reported that police are considering postponing the encounter in Girona, a city based in Catalonia, for security reasons.
“We are working so that the game on Sunday (today) is a good one and that people can enjoy themselves,” he said
Geli says his team is excited to face the reigning Spanish and European champions.
“It’s a historical game for us as it’s the first time we will host Real Madrid in the league. Just as it was a month ago when we hosted FC Barcelona and likewise when we had Atletico Madrid here for our season opener.
“Our only thoughts are for our recently promoted team to try to put Real Madrid on the ropes, just as we did against Barca and Atletico.
“We have limitations being a promoted side and we are playing against one of the best teams in Spain and the defending league champions, whom we respect.
“We all want to enjoy a great football day. Our coach (Pablo Machin) has said he wants the game to be a football celebration and that is the way we see it. It’s going to be about sports and football, that’s all we are working towards.”
Girona gained promotion to La Liga for the first time in the club’s 87-year history after finishing second in the Segunda Division in the 2016-17 campaign. AFP/ESPN