The Copa del Rey: A tournament of madness and inconvenience
Domestic cup competitions are an important part of tradition throughout Europe, and Spain are no exception. Founded in 1903, the Copa del Rey is the oldest football competition in the country. In many ways though, this national treasure has taken on a different type of reputation, one that features elements of frustration and inconvenience.
It is not an uncommon problem, and one can look to England’s FA Cup as a good comparison. The dizzying heights of the Premier League, and the windfall of cash that comes with it, has made the cup competition feel somewhat less important. This is especially true for fans of a certain generation, as the “Magic of the Cup” may not stand up the same way to the glitz and glamour of the top flight.
This aspect has been recognised by the Spanish FA, looking to find ways to inject new life into the tournament, particularly during the early rounds. Sure, when Barcelona meet Real Madrid in the final, that will definitely have the world taking notice. But as the Round of 32 began this past week, one can’t help but see how the juggernaut that is LaLiga makes running the competition a difficult task.
The second legs of this round will take place during the first week of December, putting quite a bit of distance between the matches. Besides the bizarre scheduling nature for the players involved, fans may require refreshers in terms of where the tie stands. Of course, a club’s die-hard supporters will be ready for anything, but if the Copa is trying to bring in new viewers, this is not a recipe for success.
Discussions on if the two-leg format should be abandoned come up quite often also, but in many ways that is going against some of the true traditions of the cup itself. Home-and-home battles have been a cornerstone for the Copa del Rey, and many purists would be disappointed for that to disappear.
Finally, taking matches overseas is something that many have considered, with LaLiga only the most recent example. This could potentially become a part of the plan for the Copa del Rey, acting as a way to drive up interest in other countries.
It remains immensely popular in Spain, but today's sporting world shows us an atmosphere that demands an international presence and relevance.
It is important to remember that this competition offers with it a wonderful spirit and history, bringing together over 80 clubs throughout Spanish football each season. It can create amazing memories but is sometimes treated as an afterthought. When Athletic Club lifted the first Copa del Rey trophy in April of 1903, nobody would have imagined that more than a century later such a meaningful competition would be treated so oddly.