Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. As the bandwagon passed this summer, it felt like the whole of Spanish soccer -- the whole of Spanish society, in fact -- sought to jump on board. When Spain paraded through a celebrating Madrid, people were queuing up to demand a paternity suit to prove that they had fathered the World Cup winners. And now, as La Liga takes its traditional and frustrating break for international football a single week into the season, the arguments have been revisited. The child is mine. No, mine. Mine.
During the World Cup, in Madrid they were far from slow to note the identity of Spain's captain: Real Madrid's
Which is fair enough: the RFEF is, after all, directly responsible for the Spanish national team -- and the country's astonishingly successful international youth setup, which boasts over 60 World or European titles since
The league's president
The man who had previously insisted that Spanish football was "
He didn't note that the man who scored the winning goal at Euro08,
A BBC report showed that on the final weekend of 2008, English players made up an average of 3.9 of the starting XI at Premier League clubs. In Spain, 6.9 percent were Spaniards. Germany (4.9) and Italy (7.3) were also higher.
But what's the LFP got to do with it? The answer is very little. The LFP, which is essentially a confederation of clubs theoretically run in the collective interest, can claim no responsibility for the strength of club's academies. The academies do not come under the LFP's jurisdiction, except where a B team makes it into the country's national Second Division, as is the case with Barcelona B this season. Instead they fall under the auspices of the RFEF. The LFP does not lay down any criteria for youth development. It does not earmark money or support for it either.
What it does is organize a league in which the best players play (apart from those playing in England). It is tempting to conclude that all it does do is organize a league in which the best players play -- and organize it badly. A league in which you don't even know what day games are on until a week before.
If the LFP has more Spanish players than the Premier League has English ones, that is a consequence of a financial reality. There is not a policy to protect local players. Until this season, there has been no quota on European players (a consequence of the
The number of foreign players is not a consequence of policy, it is a consequence of economy: Spanish clubs cannot afford to buy more or to attract more; a year ago (the last available full stats), Spain's annual wage bill was in the region of $1.1 billion; the Premier League's was $2 billion.
The LFP's aim -- as indeed is natural; desirable, even -- is simply to protect the interests of the clubs, not the national team. When it comes to disputes between club and country, the LFP -- again, naturally -- takes the clubs' side.
But the reality is that even the concept of "the clubs" is a misnomer; since not all of them are protected. Outside of Madrid and Barcelona, Spain's teams can still less afford to bring in foreign players. Powerless to convince Madrid or Barcelona (or indeed a handful of other clubs, like Atlético Madrid and Seville) to negotiate TV contracts collectively to the benefit of the whole league, the LFP has presided over a huge imbalance in Spain.
Between them this summer, Madrid and Barcelona have spent more than the rest of the league put together. Last summer, Madrid accounted for 58 percent of transfers, Barcelona 24 percent, leaving 18 other teams only 28 percent between them. The happy consequence of that may well have been stress getting placed on bringing youth through and limiting spending on foreigners -- but that is a side effect not a stated aim. That much is shown very clearly by another factor. It's not just that the LFP has not built policy to protect Spanish players; it is that it has done exactly the reverse.
According to article 93 of law 35, originally introduced by the Partido Popular in 2004, foreign "executives" earning more than $772,000 a year are taxed at 23 percent, rather than 43 percent in Spain. In theory, the aim was to encourage talent -- doctors, scientists, etc. - to come to Spain. In practice, it gave Spanish football clubs a huge advantage in attracting foreigners. Of the 60 people who qualify for the lower rate of tax, 43 are soccer players.
That's foreigners. Not Spaniards.
As players earn net wages, if a club had a choice between two players demanding the same amount, one Spanish and one foreign, they would naturally go for the foreigner. They would be mad not to. An example: Real Zaragoza paid
When the PSOE government closed that loop hole this year -- but, buckling under pressure, maintained the special rate for players already under contract -- what did the LFP do? Crack open the Champagne and applaud the fact that Spanish players would now have equal opportunities? Congratulate the government on giving the national team a boost? Foresee a World Cup winning summer? Express its satisfaction that fewer foreigners would play in Spain so that it could continue "protecting" and "promoting" Spanish players?
Of course not. Astiazarán complained, quite correctly, that "lots of foreigners won't want to come here any more -- this will provoke an exodus from our league." He threatened to get the teams to go on strike, insisting that: "football is in danger." His vice-president
Again, the LFP's position is only natural; it is their job to protect the interests of its members. That's the clubs. Not the players. Not Spanish players. Not "Spanish football." And not the Spanish national team. What is not natural is fighting that fight and then claiming to fight the selección's corner too. The LFP has things to be proud of, but Spain's World Cup success is not one of them. What is not natural is claiming that the kid is yours when you've never so much as bought the mother a drink, still less ... well, you get the point.
This summer, Spain's players weren't the only ones hanging medals on themselves; everyone else was trying to do so too. But while the players deserved it, other people did not. People like the president of the LFP.