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Lighting up La Ciudad del Futbol in Las Rozas - a municipality near Madrid and the home of the RFEF - are two European Championships, one World Cup and countless trophies from under-age successes. Domestically there’s the small matter of Real Madrid and Barcelona too, the two teams who were pretty much solely responsible for FIFA’s team of the year and who’s regular meetings - known as El Clasico - regularly draw millions of viewers worldwide.
In short, Spain has become the blueprint for most countries trying to get some sort of success out of the beautiful game. They’ve replaced Brazil as both the best side and the country with the most sought after style, boasting their unique Tiki-Taka system which teams across the globe try to replicate - implicated in the Premier League by managers like Brendan Rogers and Michael Laudrup and ruthlessly pursued by Roman Abramovich.
It all seems particularly rosy, too good to be true - and it is. Dig a little deeper beneath the surface and problems underpin the domestic game, at any moment La Liga could bubble over into a situation like the match-fixing scandal that halted the progress of Italy’s Serie A.
First of all there’s the threat of the Operation Puerto doping scandal which has ripped through cycling spilling over into football. Speaking to Spanish National Radio last week, Eufemiano Fuentes - the doctor at the centre of trial - claimed he is owed money by Real Madrid. “I am interested in collecting a debt” he said, continuing “let’s see if Madrid pay what they owe me. Barcelona pay well, but Real Madrid still owe me money.”
The implication, that Spain’s duopoly may have been guilty of doping similar to that which has seen Lance Armstromg pillaged in recent months. Tomas Valdivielso, Fuentes attorney, was quick to state though that “it has nothing to do with Operation Puerto” and Real Madrid have since launched legal proceedings. They say the debt is for expenses he incurred as a witness for them in a 2009 libel trial - a trial which followed a reports in French newspaper Le Monde claiming Real Madrid, Barcelona and other leading clubs in Spain used Fuentes’ doping expertise.
It’s not the first time Operation Puerto has threatened to taint Spanish football. When a payment code was named in the trial as “RSoc” recently, speculation reacher feverish levels in Spain over the possible use of doping at Basque club Real Sociedad.
Those levels peaked when La Real’s former president Iñaki Badiola said that his predecessors had been paying for Fuentes’ services for many years - including the 2002/03 season when they finished second with Xabi Alonso in their squad. Talking to El Pais, Badiola said “we’ve been buying strange medicines for £294,000 per year [from Fuentes].”
It has not yet escalated any further than that, but the accusations are there and with Real Madrid almost dragged through the mud last week, many harbour belief that it is a matter of time until concrete evidence leaks out to implicate Spanish sides in the scandal. But if it doesn’t, there is another threat hanging over many La Liga clubs. One which has been brought about by a decade of financial mismanagement and the monopolising of TV money by the apex predators.
In a move which could see major implications for a number of professional clubs in Spain’s top two divisions, European authorities are preparing to halt public funding of debt-ridden clubs - many clubs are already having trouble paying bank debts totalling some £3bn. The move would likely force some clubs into liquidation. Deportvio la Coruna look the most culpable at the moment but others - like Valencia, who are now regional government owned, and Atletico Madrid - would have to sell players and face years of decline.
The problem is surfacing now because of Spain’s struggling economy. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy continues to make cuts and tax payers continue to be the ones effected, while football clubs sit on their tax debts still paying their players thousands of euros a week.
"It is beggars belief," criticised Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness when the debt figures became transparent last year. "We pay hundreds of millions of euros to keep Spain out of the shit and then they let the clubs off their debts."
While clubs frantically try to arrange a TV deal that suits everyone - not just Real Madrid and Barcelona - while also negotiating their tax bills, Professor José María Gay de Liébana, of the University of Barcelona, suggested only three clubs wouldn’t feel the wrath of the potential financial apocalypse in Spanish football:
"When people ask me which clubs could be in danger, I reply with the list of the only clubs that are not in any kind of danger - Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. Elsewhere the talent will be forced to flee to the Premier League in Britain or elsewhere."
Years of brushing these problems under the table could be about to come to an unprecedented halt. The sooner the RFEF and everyone involved in Spanish football start addressing these problems in a similar manner to which they oversee their talent production, the quicker they can carry on focusing on winning more World Cups.