The two teams are keen to play out the Copa del Rey showpiece at Real Madrid’s famous home on May 30, but los Blancos have other ideas
Barcelona and Athletic Club want to play the Copa de Rey final at the Santiago Bernabeu after progressing to the cup showpiece on Wednesday night, but Real Madrid are already looking for excuses to get out of hosting the famous fixture.
Barca beat Villarreal 3-1 at El Madrigal to secure a comprehensive 6-2 aggregate win and a first final under Luis Enrique, with Athletic running out 2-0 winners at Espanyol later that same night to advance 3-1 overall.
Luis Enrique explained afterwards that he did not mind where the final was played, but Andres Iniesta would relish the chance to play at the home of the club’s arch-rivals: “I don’t know what the final decision will be, but the Bernabeu is a ground where you would enjoy playing a final.”
And club president Josep Maria Bartomeu added: “We would like to play at a big stadium so the maximum possible number of supporters can be there. For superstitious reasons, we don’t want it to be our stadium, but we want a big one. It could be the Bernabeu.”
For his part, Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde said: “For me, playing at the Bernabeu would seem like a very good idea. We would bring more fans than Barcelona I’m sure.”
Barca and Athletic met in the 2009 final at Mestalla and then again at Atletico’s Vicente Calderon in 2012.
Then, they had hoped to play at the Bernabeu, but Madrid inisisted on carrying out repairs on stadium toilets to scupper those plans.
Madrid are keen to avoid scenes similar to 1997, when Barca beat Betis to win the Copa at the Bernabeu and president Joan Gaspart ran on to the pitch amid wild celebrations while the Catalans’ club anthem was played over the loudspeaker system.
Furthermore, both Barca and Athletic are from regions – Catalunya and the Basque Country – in which many are keen to seal independence from Spain. In 2009, Spanish broadcaster TVE censured the national anthem as it was greeted with a chorus of boos and whistles from fans of the two clubs, while supporters acted similarly in the 2012 showpiece.
Such a scenario is already seen as an embarrassment in a competition that bears the name of the country’s monarch and Madrid want to avoid controversy in what will be King Felipe’s first final as the country’s ruler.
One possible get-out for the capital club is that Real Madrid Castilla could be in action in the play-offs for promotion to Spain’s Segunda Division and it is tradition for the B team to use the Bernabeu in those matches.
Zinedine Zidane’s side are currently second in Group II and will need to finish among the first four of that sector to reach the play-offs, although only two points currently separate the top six teams. If they do qualify, Castilla must wait until May 18 to find out if they will play at home on the weekend of the final (due to take place on May 30).
By then, however, it would be too late logistically to change the venue of the Copa’s showpiece.
Madrid, meanwhile, are expected to remain silent on the issue unless they receive an official request from the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to play the match at the Bernabeu.