thumbnail Hello,

The Dutchman's team could only draw 0-0 at home to Tunisia in a friendly last week but the Barcelona legend believes they could be a match for anyone. takes a closer look

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor

Catalunya, said Johan Cruyff this week, could beat anyone on their day. This, however, had not been their day.

A goalless draw at home to Tunisia was far from the desired outcome for the Catalans in their friendly fixture on December 30 but it will hardly have been surprising either in an end-of-year encounter played on a chilly night in Montjuic, and a team who only get together once a year. National pride is one thing, but there was nothing really at stake; in a sense, it wasn't real. But if it were real, things would surely be different.

A poll in late October revealed that 45.4 per cent of Catalans would vote to be independent from Spain, although many admit they would face an uncertain future away from the rest of the country. But while unemployment and a lack of jobs in the north-eastern part of Spain mean the initial outlook may be bleak for the region, the same could not be said for its football team.

Barcelona, of course, are a symbol of Catalan nationalism. We often hear that it's more than a club, and that Catalunya is not Spain. So if such wishes were granted, the Catalans were allowed to separate themselves from the rest of the Iberian nation, and permitted their own football team too, it would probably do rather well.

What really interests me is quality football. If you look at the first and second halves (against Tunisia), this team have every chance of playing anywhere and winning any game

                                   - Johan Cruyff

For a start, such a side would include the bulk of a team described by many as the finest in history. Take out Lionel Messi, who would be eligible to play for Catalunya but would never chose the nation over his beloved Argentina. Take out Andres Iniesta, too, because even though he has represented Catalunya in the past, he is not actually Catalan. And take out Dani Alves, David Villa, Adriano, Eric Abidal, Maxwell, Pedro, Seydou Keita, and so on ...

Key absences, you may think. But what's left is a wonderful selection of players, including the spine of Spain's World Cup-winning side from 2010. Xavi would make any team in the world, while Sergio Busquets is a top-class central midfielder; at the back, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique form the best central defensive partnership around. And behind them would be Victor Valdes, unable to oust Iker Casillas from the Spain side but widely considered to be one of the finest exponents of his craft.

Elsewhere, the emergence of Barcelona-born Jordi Alba at Valencia means three out of four of Spain's current first-choice backline is Catalan. Alba looks set to cement his place in the Spain side ahead of Euro 2012, thanks in part to the demise of Joan Capdevila, whose move to Benfica has been an unmitigated disaster. Capdevila may yet find his feet and his form once more. But he, too, is Catalan.

How a Catalunya first XI could look


Victor Valdes


Martin Montoya

Carles Puyol

Gerard Pique

Jordi Alba



Sergio Busquets

Cesc Fabregas


Isaac Cuenca

Sergio Garcia

Bojan Krkic

AC Milan's Didac Vila, currently on loan at Espanyol, is another option at left-back, while Valencia's Victor Ruiz would provide cover at centre-back, along with Barca's Andreu Fontas.

Meanwhile, Martin Montoya has looked increasingly impressive when given opportunities at Barca by Pep Guardiola and the youngster has already been called up to the senior Spain squad. He is already a fine right-back and will only get better, like many of his team-mates in a Catalan side averaging, as Cruyff was quick to point out, only 21 years of age.

Alongside Xavi and Busquets in midfield would be Cesc Fabregas, recently repatriated after a successful stint with Arsenal and now able to turn out with his friends for Catalunya's annual end-of-year game thanks to the winter break in Spain.

The attack is perhaps the one area which would let the side down somewhat - and that showed against Tunisia. Chances were created, but none converted. Espanyol's Sergio Garcia was a Euro 2008 winner with Spain and is a decent option for the centre-forward slot, but the former Betis and Zaragoza man is nowhere near the national set-up these days.

Nor is Bojan Krkic, who was forced to leave Barca in search of first-team football at Roma and is struggling to show his quality in Serie A, continuing a crisis of confidence which saw him left out of even the Spanish Under-21 side that claimed European Championship glory in Denmark last summer.

How a Spain XI without Catalans could line up


Iker Casillas


Andoni Iraola

Sergio Ramos

Raul Albiol

Alvaro Arbeloa


Santi Cazorla

Xabi Alonso

Andres Iniesta


David Silva

David Villa

Juan Mata

Another alternative would be to promote Cesc to a false-nine role similar to the one in which he often operates at Barca, with another midfielder, such as Espanyol's excellent Joan Verdu, coming in. Chelsea's Oriol Romeu would be an option, too, although the La Masia graduate is more of a defensive-minded player.

The last place in the side would go to another Barca star, young winger Isaac Cuenca, whose trickery on the flanks has already made him a Camp Nou cult hero and seen him tipped to make the Spain squad at Euro 2012.

All in all, it's quite a team. But would it be better than a Spain side? Take the Catalans out of the line-up and the answer is quite possibly in the affirmative.

Stripped of the brilliance of Xavi and Cesc in midfield, a non-Catalan La Roja would also lose its wonderful defensive duo of Pique and Puyol. In fact, the only area in which it would be superior is the attack, where David Silva, David Villa and Juan Mata would be a frightening proposition to any side - especially because they all played together for years at Valencia.

Catalunya is my country and it's a wonderful country. If we pick ourselves up and get down to work, we are an unstoppable country - we should never forget that

- Pep Guardiola

At the back, the inclusion of Raul Albiol alongside Sergio Ramos in central defence would provide less guarantees, although they would still be protected by the brilliant Iker Casillas. And the Spanish side would still boast a fine midfield made up of Xabi Alonso, Iniesta and one other, possibly the in-form Santi Cazorla from Malaga, as well as their superior attack.

But at a packed Camp Nou, for an intense Iberian derby pitting Catalunya against Spain and the locals playing for the fierce pride of their nation, and possibly Pep Guardiola assisting his mentor Cruyff on the sidelines, such a Catalan side would be very, very hard to beat. They have the players and they have the pride.

So maybe Cruyff is correct to claim Catalunya could beat anyone on their day. But unfortunately for football fans hoping to see such a match, and for the independentistas in the region, that day may never come.

Follow Ben Hayward on

Poll of the day

Could Johan Cruyff’s Catalunya beat Spain?