It is an expression that has been used so often in the past, but the meaning was different. ‘Hay Liga’ was first penned by the Madrid-based Press to announce that Real Madrid had a chance of catching Barcelona in the League a few seasons ago. Now though, it can also be used for the short-term future of La Liga because on Thursday, shortly after noon, the Spanish High Court declared ‘Hay Liga’ and that the show will go on. But the problems that resulted in the intended strike have not gone away, and we may soon see the battle commencing once again.
There is a degree of irony in the fact that Javier Tebas declared the strike called by the AFE, the players union, and the RFEF, the Spanish FA, a ‘joke’ and declaring it illegal, when all season he has threatened to do the same thing. Yet, in Spain, memories can be short and Tebas came out fighting against the RFEF President, Angel Maria Villar, and AFE President, Luis Rubiales. He has come out the winner but maybe not for too long.
They were not the only protagonists in this row. The Spanish Minister of Sport, Miguel Cardenal, has played a major role in starting this spat, a role that both he and his party were keen to avoid in the first place.
It all started when Tebas was elected as LFP President and one of his pledges was to create a collective TV broadcasting rights deal and abolish the current individual negotiations that clubs undertake - an uphill challenge and one many thought would fail considering that it would be almost impossible to get Real Madrid and Barca on board. However, a clever line in the new deal which says that, for the first years of any new deal, both clubs can’t earn less than they did when the deal was signed quickly had them signing on the dotted line.
But, in order for a new deal to happen, it had to be signed into law and then the new decree would have to be passed by parliament. Considering that the party, Partido Popular, who would sign and then have to get it passed through parliament, have a strong majority, it all looked like child’s play. But Spain is different.
With local and municipal elections taking place across most of the country this month and a general election taking place at the end of the year, the government didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers.
The new law sat on Cardenal’s desk for months and Tebas threatened strike action. Eventually it was signed, but the RFEF and AFE rose against it, stating they should have been included in the negotiations. The AFE under Rubiales had the backing of many key players including Andres Iniesta, Iker Casillas and Lionel Messi. They claimed to be worried about the smaller clubs and wanted something done to prevent players from lower Leagues going unpaid but many thought that this was more of a protest over the tax authority’s new plan to tax them more.
The RFEF were really annoyed about losing power. It was Villar who founded the AFE, years ago, and they formed a strong alliance. An alliance that many believed would stand their ground and it was for that reason Tebas went to court but before he did so, he received a very unflattering comparison.
“He’s stuck in the times of Hitler, the boss of a concentration camp,” said former Spain, and always outspoken, Coach Javier Clemente regarding the LFP President. Tebas is not liked and so the RFEF and AFE may have felt they would easily have public opinion on their side. But they were wrong and Tebas even went so far as to claim the photo taken of Rubiales and the players, which appeared on the front page of Marca, was something that the Basque nationalist groups Bildu and Herri Batasuna would do.
In Spain, the rule of mixing politics and football simply does not exist. While both sides traded insults and then tried to meet and reach an agreement, many were left guessing on whether the final two League games and Copa del Rey final would go ahead. Everybody had an opinion but nobody was certain.
After noon on Thursday it was announced that the AFE would have to suspend their strike and soon after the RFEF did so too. But there is the key word: suspend. The LFP may be declaring a victory, but it will be short-lived. They have had to pay a €5m bond to get the League to resume. The short term is fixed but what is the future of the game? Tebas has said he will negotiate, but, after so many insults having been traded, will spite play a bigger role in this than what is better for the game?
A year ago this weekend, Atletico Madrid went to the Camp Nou and won the League. They became the first team in a decade to break the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barca and it was predicted that a new competitive La Liga was on the horizon. But, this weekend, Barca can win the League at Vicente Calderon and many believe that Atletico’s feat was more of an exception than a sign of things to come.
Tebas has argued that the new TV deal will see clubs get more money but with Real Madrid and Barca still getting the lion’s share for the first few years, the distance between them and the rest of the League will still be in place for many years to come. But La Liga only lives in the present. Future problems are for another day.
We will have football for the next three weeks, but after that expect a long summer of talks/arguments as a deal for the 2016-17 season gets thrashed out. Maybe even expect to see this argument continue into next season and, should that happen, don’t be shocked to see once again strike action threatened. And at no time be surprised if the question of what the fans want is not raised because at no time in the past week has anyone made any reference to the ones that this strike has really affected.
For all their talk of working for the good of the game, it all comes down to power and money. Early this week Tebas said piracy was destroying the game, ignoring the poor organisation or corruption that is rife across the country. It was another sign that those governing the game are out of touch with reality. As the saying goes: Spanish football is played by geniuses but run by idiots.