All eyes were on it. A fight that is said to be worth hundreds of millions of Euros and had been years in the making had the world gripped. For days nobody talked about anything else - even those that didn’t like the sport had an opinion. Everyone knew it would happen, the question was always when and then it did. After years of dancing around it, both fighters came out with their fists raised. In the red corner we had the RFEF and in the blue one the LFP.
And then somewhere in the middle there is the AFE. In Spain this week a real heavyweight fight kicked off, the war of the century, and it has the world gripped.
While Lionel Messi and co. were entertaining the world against Bayern Munich, the Spanish FA, the RFEF, and then later the players’ union, AFE, announced that there would be a strike in La Liga and that the League would go on hiatus from May 15. It shocked many and leaves the title race and the Copa del Rey in limbo. The reason: money and power. The reaction has seen much condemnation from all corners.
The threat of strike action has been mentioned more than once this season. It all started when LFP President Javier Tebas announced that a change was needed to the way broadcasting revenue was distributed. Tebas has made no secret of his envy to how the Premier League shares out its TV money and when it was announced that La Liga champions Atletico Madrid had earned less TV revenue by Cardiff City, who had been relegated, a change was needed and even demanded by many.
Tebas faced a difficult task of getting more than 42 clubs to agree to changing the current process that saw clubs negotiate individual deals. In an almost Jack Shephard moment, he declared that the League had to learn to ‘live together or die alone’ and little by little he made headway. He even got Barca and Real Madrid on board.
Persuading everyone that a collective agreement was better than an individual one wasn’t the only hurdle for the League’s President. He also needed the Spanish government to change the law to allow clubs to talk as one. And, it has been here where he has faced the most trouble. The new law would mean that the Spanish FA would lose revenue and control over games. Players would also lose some of their image rights and so the government sat with the new law on the table for a while before signing it.
Tebas threatened strike action but also knew that actually doing it could possibly affect the League’s ability to sell the TV rights and so decided to apply pressure rather than striking. After months of hesitating the government signed the new law. It still needs to be passed in parliament but the ruling party, El Partido Popular, have a comfortable majority and so there shouldn’t be any unforeseen problems.
Many thought that was the end. The LFP felt they could now go out and try selling the broadcasting rights from the 2016 season, but then the RFEF acted.
The RFEF have been against the new deal from the start. President Angel Maria Villar and Tebas have a frosty relationship and Villar was even caught on camera insulting Tebas. Villar, who has been President of the FA for more than 20 years, is determined to hold onto control and also the percentage that is allocated to the RFEF from TV revenue. He has called the new law a disgrace and has bemoaned the fact the RFEF were not invited to any of the talks about the new law. But Villar does not have public support.
Many still feel that he favours the clubs that voted for him to stay as President and that referees give more favours to those clubs, hence the term ‘Villarato’. His handling of the presenting of the League trophy last season has not gone without criticism. On the last day of the campaign, the President usually hands over the trophy to the winners but Villar had other plans that day, so Atletico had to wait until August before they got their prize.
More importantly his silence after the incidents at Madrid Rio where a Deportivo La Coruna fan was killed by Atletico Ultras was a sign for many that the time had come for a change and that although there are still concerns about Tebas, he is still seen as the lesser of two evils. But the RFEF are not the only ones calling a strike - the players are too.
The players say they are all for a collective agreement but what they are angry about is that they were not consulted and the new law means that they may end up losing some of their image rights. It has been suggested that this has nothing to do with the TV deal but rather the players making a stand against Hacienda, the Spanish tax authority, who want to raise the tax threshold for high earners in Spain.
On the cover of Marca, a photo of Luis Rubiales, the players union spokesperson, with Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and many other leading was published to show that this strike has the backing of all those in the union. Messi has also announced his support of the union but like the RFEF, public support is not with the players.
Many are furious that the players, especially those who have multi-million contracts, are striking for what they believe is something futile. In Spain footballers have often been accused of living in a bubble and before the recession, fans were happy to let them do so. But now, with daily evictions and unemployment still over 20%, fans are furious. In a working environment where the minimum wage is just over €600, the average monthly wage is €1000 and many across the country have had their salaries cut, the players are being accused of throwing their toys out of the pram.
Clubs including Real Madrid, Eibar and Valencia seem to be backing the LFP stance in calling the strike illegal and have published the League’s statement on their website. Public opinion is against the strike and many have said that should it go ahead it might affect their watching of future League campaigns.
While it may be seen as an empty threat, it cannot be denied that the recession has affected viewing figures and attendances at games and so maybe it might be a good idea not to ignore such statements. Another thing that is true is that the League’s image is once again blemished.
The talks over selling TV rights haven’t started yet and there is already bickering. What will happen once they start? Right now everyone is in limbo but the LFP have invited the RFEF to talks and the AFE have also sent out an olive branch.
It’s disappointing that a week that could see two Spanish sides qualify for the Champions League final for the second year in a row and another for the Europa League final is overshadowed once again by those who seem to care more about personal gain and control than the good of the game. It’s going to be a long week.