couple of years ago, I asked a Spanish footballer how he was finding life in
England after his move to a big club.
get paid your full wages on time," he marvelled. "There are no
problems - the full amount of money goes straight into your bank."
player had come from Barcelona and had yet to suffer the fate of so many of his
team mates who'd left the Catalan club. Barça were reliable payers, but his
former team mates had horror stories of late payments, reduced payments,
diminished bonuses or, in the worst cases, no wages at all.
football club owners took advantage of
the fact that players were unlikely to bleat to the media, knowing the public
would have little sympathy for a professional footballer who earns five, 10 or
20 times the average wage. There was a grapevine among the players about which
clubs could or couldn't be relied upon.
spoken a few months earlier when the player had a choice between several
English teams and several Spanish. Tenerife, for example, had offered the most,
but he dismissed their approach straightaway.
have a bad reputation for paying," he'd explained. "Bad even for
Spain." Two other big Spanish clubs were rejected for the same reason.
player went to England and had no problems with his wages. When, three years
later, he was out of contract and injured, the Professional Footballers
Association offered their support. Like Cesc Fabregas last week, he was very
happy with the organisation of British football and wishes only for the same in
player is now back in Spain at a different stage in his career, earning a
fraction of his wage in England having signed the lowest permitted professional
footballer contract of just €800 per month.
hopes it will be paid. Hopes.
'fit and proper person' test to rule out any undesirables from owning a Premier
League club can be a mockery, but no such tests exist in Spain. Clubs owned by
socios are more accountable, but far too many chancers have taken over historic
clubs and almost ruined them before disappearing to let someone else pick up
are not docked points for going into administration and have little to lose by
not paying their bills. And if the times get really tough, clubs enjoy
historically good credit lines with the local banks or regional governments.
You can bet that the first debts paid are not those owed to players.
have had enough and are striking. It's heartening to see so many big names who've
had no problem with their wages supporting lads who they came through the youth
ranks with and are now at smaller clubs. Threats of strikes happen with
credibility-sapping regularity in Spanish football, but seldom occur. They did
last week as the fixtures were cancelled for the opening week of the season.
didn't see how the new look Malaga filled with expensively purchased signings
would fare against Barcelona. Didn't see whether Jose Mourinho would go on
acting the fool on the touchline.
strike is set to continue this weekend. Players just want the money they are
owed (200 professionals are owed €50m, up from 100 players owed €15 million
last season). That's the money they signed contracts for. If they don't get
that, then what's the point of a contract?
a two week break following this weekend's games for international duty, Spanish
clubs might not play their first league game until the weekend of the 10th
September - and that's only if a resolution is found.
potential problems are mounting. Teams could go into the Champions League
without having played a league game, they could be storing up a fixture backlog
for later in the year. And many smaller clubs need the gate money from matches
ironic that this is happening when Spanish football is enjoying its greatest
ever moment in the sun. World Cup winners and reigning European champions,
Spain's investment in sporting talent which started before the 1992 Olympic Games
in Barcelona keeps paying dividends. Yet at the same time the organisation of
the sport is deeply flawed by financial inequality, debt, dire attendances
outside the top league, unfair distribution of television money and the now
highlighted issue of debts to players.
many have shrugged their shoulders for too long and said 'whatever'. Credit
then to the players for making a stance.