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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Lots of potential positives for Girona to match with Barcelona in Miami

The proposed match is yet to be approved but steps have been already made to minimise inconvenience to the club's supporters 

Girona's players have plenty to cheer already this season and there are benefits to their match with Barcelona in January 2019 being moved to the United States. AFP

Tuesday saw a million Catalans hit the streets of Barcelona to celebrate Catalonia’s Diada national day, a push for independence and protest against the jailed political prisoners.

It was a flag waving exercise where some of the 50 per cent of Catalans who favour independence filled seven kilometres of the city’s main thoroughfare, but expressions of independence have long been limited to Catalonia.

That could change in January if plans go ahead for Barcelona to play their Catalan neighbours Girona in Miami, for what would be the first La Liga game staged outside Spain.

When first mooted, there was opposition to the idea of teams playing abroad from fans and the Spanish Football Association as well as the players who said they were “outraged”.

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But yet we are now at a stage where Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, Girona president Delfí Geli and Primera Liga chief Javier Tebas have all signed a letter requesting that the Spanish FA allow them to play the league game at the 64,000 capacity Hard Rock stadium on January 26.

AFE, the Spanish Players Union met with the league on Monday and said players would make the “final decision.” Their initial anger was at not being told of the plans.

La Liga are particularly keen to push their product globally and see North America as a key market. They think they have the best players and their teams play the best football in the world, yet England’s Premier League has a higher profile and bigger television contracts.

The game would be a home match for Girona – a shrewd move as there will be far less opposition if it was a home match for Barca.

Girona, with a population of 100,000 located 100km north of Barcelona, has never been a big football city.

The club’s average attendance was just 800 in 1999 when they played in a local league, but they rose as high as the top flight in 2017 and beat Real Madrid as they went on to finish 10th in their inaugural campaign last season.

Girona’s average attendance crept over 10,000 for the first time last season. The club are 44 per cent owned by the City Football Group, who own Manchester City, and 44 per cent by Pere Guardiola, brother of Pep.

Sources at Girona have said the club and the players are in favour of the game.

The exposure can help them raise their profile and attract support from out of the city. The players are not too perturbed about a trip to sunny Miami in January either.

Fans have been consulted and a compensation package drawn up with 1,500 free flights to Miami. Girona’s average gate only crept above 1,500 a decade ago with promotion to the second division.

The Aficiones Unidas, an association of fan clubs, is satisfied with the package, which will also include 5,000 free tickets for Girona’s game at Camp Nou game this month and partial refunds from season tickets as fans will be seeing one game less.

With away followings poor and extremely limited in Spain, Barcelona would normally receive just 300 tickets for the game in Girona, a firmly pro-independence city where Barca have long been the most popular team.

Many of those Barca fans are armchair supporters content to watch games in bars or at home. That it will be in Miami is not a big issue for them.

However, matters could be far more complicated in the future if the exercise is repeated with a bigger club in Spain, who have a larger fanbase, who lose a home game to the US.

Barca or Real Madrid season ticket holders would be furious if their once a season home clasico was ever staged abroad.

The choice of Miami makes appears logical. The city, which has no top-flight team of its own until the David Beckham-backed Inter Miami starts in 2020, has a large Spanish speaking population and visits for friendly games between Barcelona and Real Madrid in 2017 and Real Madrid and Manchester United in 2018 both sold out.

But before the game can happen it will also have to be approved by Uefa, the United States Soccer Federation and the regional body CONCACAF.

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