As insults go, being called a Nazi is not a particularly nice one. That’s how former Spain coach Javier Clemente referred to Javier Tebas earlier this week. “He’s stuck in the times of [Adolf] Hitler, the boss of a concentration camp.” Tebas is the president of the Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP) and a man with a face only a mother could love, one which isn’t particularly well-liked by followers of Spanish soccer.
For all his flaws, since Tebas (top) was chosen to become the top dog of Spain’s top two leagues in 2013, the 52-year-old has tackled some important issues, such as match-fixing and, most prominent at the moment, the uneven distribution of television rights.
But if Tebas is being cast in the Nazi role during Spain’s ongoing drama, then Asociación de Futbolistas Españoles president Luis Rubiales would be the Basque terrorist. The bald-headed former soccer player mainly made his living outside of Spain’s top flight before wrapping up his career with a random stop at Scottish side Hamilton Acamdemical. Soon after retiring in 2009, he took on the role as president of Spain’s players union.
Last Thursday, with the specter of a strike hanging over the final weeks of the Spanish season, Rubiales fronted a meeting attended by some of La Liga’s most recognizable face: Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Sergio Ramos, as well as others. A photo opportunity followed, with the AFE noting its disappointment in a very public way that they weren’t involved in the passing of the Royal Decree — a new law which (in theory) aims to make all teams earn more money from a collective television deal.
Tebas labeled the photos a move straight out of the play-books of Bildu and Herri Batasuna — two Basque nationalist groups. Like Clemente, you can’t say he doesn’t have a way with words.
Tebas was equally touching when he labelled Real Federación Española de Fútbol president Ángel María Villar (above) a man “stuck in medieval times,” words which led to Clemente’s Nazi rant. Villar is a former player for a Basque club (not to be confused with a terrorist) and was one of the founders of the AFE. As Spanish federation president, he was happy to pat Rubiales on the head and back a potential strike.
Miguel Cardenal, however, wasn’t so happy to back the strike. Spain’s minister for sport eventually helped the Royal Decree pass through government, although Clemente had words about that too: “The PP [the party in power in Spain] has scored a goal against football. The government will take money from football and share it out among its friends and other sports — which the government should be doing [with it’s own money].”
Worryingly, these four men — Tebas, Rubalies, Villar, and Cardenal (right) — have a big say in how things go down in Spanish soccer. At 65, Villar is the oldest, while Rubiales, 37, is the baby of the dodgy quartet. Between them they have spent 201 years wandering Planet Earth, yet over the last week they were unable to put their heads together to find a solution to halt the AFE’s proposed strike.
The union’s biggest gripe is that it weren’t involved in the talks which led to the passing of the Royal Decree, although there were also some financial details that didn’t sit well. Their response, a threatened strike, was blasted as illegal by Tebas, who scoffer, “The players are badly informed. The strike is a joke.”
On Thursday afternoon, a Spanish court agreed with him, and the RFEF reluctantly agreed that games would go ahead this weekend. Strike averted. Barcelona can go to Atlético Madrid on Sunday and can potentially win La Liga, just like Diego Simeone’s side did at Camp Nou nearly one year ago to the day.
That’s all well and good, but it misses the finer details: These four grown men were unable to come to a satisfactory agreement. As hoped, soccer will go on, the season will finish and the Copa del Rey final will be played, but all is not yet hunky-dory. Tebas is still sticking to his guns; Cardenal’s been quiet; and neither Rubiales nor Villar have suggested they’re all of a sudden happy with the Royal Decree’s small print.
It seem that most people, apart from the AFE and the RFEF (which is are significant opposition), are fans of the Royal Decree. However, even beyond the talk of picket lines and strikes, there is an important detail which as been missed in the passing of the new law last month; a caveat, if you will.
Scribbled at the bottom of the Royal Decree is a rule, one which may explain how Tebas got Madrid and Barça on board. The new collective sale of television rights will come into play in 2016-17, so clubs can honor agreements they already had in place for next season — but that’s not the important part. The important part is that for the first six years of the deal, no club can earn less than they have done during the current season. You’d never guess which two teams could have pocketed less…
So, as the earnings of La Liga clubs stretch from 846 million euros to, potentially, more than one billion euros, the league’s apex predators will continue to pocket at least 140 million euros a season. Ninety percent of the overall pile of money will go to the Primera Division (50 percent of that shared equally, the other 50 percent distributed based on a set of variables), with just 10 percent filtering down to La Segunda.
But that’s all math for another day. Everyone is pretty tired right now. The point is, as another threat of strike action passes and Barça prepares to win the league, the Royal Decree has not yet proved the fairy godmother everyone predicted. One hurdle has been scraped, but more are likely to follow.