MADRID — It seemed unfair. The Catalans are threatening to break the country apart. Economically speaking, the patient is stable, but still in intensive care. The arrival of a new king Thursday, despite the fact that he inherited a badly tarnished throne, may yet have provided Spaniards with a fillip of hope, even optimism, that their country was finally turning a corner.
Then the Chileans spoiled the moment.
Three weeks ago, when King Juan Carlos I unexpectedly announced his abdication, nobody in Spain suspected that the arrival of their new king would coincide, let alone be practically overshadowed, by the elimination of Spain from the World Cup. After all, Spain went to Brazil for the tournament as the defending world champions, with its national team and clubs dominating Europe’s recent competitions.
But in a country where soccer (fútbol, as it is called here) is perhaps the one thing for which nearly all Spaniards share an undiluted passion, Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Chile cast a mist of mourning over the nation that even the pomp of a royal event could not dispel.
“Cemetery of Kings” read one of Thursday’s newspaper headlines, a reference to the debacle of a golden generation of Spanish soccer players, kicked out of the World Cup, rather than the day’s royal event, when King Felipe VI succeeded his father.
“What just happened in Brazil was a disaster, so this can only be a sad moment and makes the issue of having a new king pretty irrelevant as far as I’m concerned,” said Gabriel Romero, 16, who was glumly walking around Madrid wearing the soccer shirt of La Roja, as the team is known.
In fact, while the royal succession has fueled a debate over whether Spain should keep its monarchy, many sounded more concerned Thursday with how to overhaul a soccer team whose victories had provided at least a modicum of distraction from the country’s troubles and also helped ease Spain’s regional tensions.
But diversion was not what everyone wanted, and if Spain had to be run out of the World Cup, then some opponents of the monarchy welcomed the timing.
“I’m sure the royal household wanted the new king to also benefit from soccer euphoria, so I’m glad the team lost because its success had created an absurd sense of patriotism that diverted attention from our political and social problems, including the fact that we should be able to choose our head of state,” said Carlos Royo, a 48-year-old masseur.
Royo was walking around Madrid with a Republican flag, in defiance of the authorities and the 7,000 police officers who had been deployed to help protect the royal day.
“The fact that I’ve been told I can’t wave my flag shows you just how little democracy there is in our system,” Royo said.
Still, thousands took to the streets of Madrid and other cities after Juan Carlos said he would step down to demand a referendum on the monarchy, damaged by profligate spending and corruption scandals.