It was Fernando Roig who said it best, explaining the truth that lies behind the Spanish League or the LFP. "You go to a league meeting and you discuss things, you explain, you talk about your position for half an hour," the Villarreal president told the radio station Cadena Cope, "and then it turns out to be completely worthless. There you are making proposals, analyzing the situation and it means nothing because the decision has been taken by in some restaurant the day before the meeting. You can talk, but the decision has been made and there is nothing you can do."
Real politik is the reality. The Villarreal president explained that in the days before the league meetings, all sorts of ideas get discussed. Informal conversations take place and clubs appear to agree on things that they can improve and on things that need changing. But then when it comes to it, no one says anything; no one dares raise their voice. And if they do, they are powerless to change anything anyway. Never mind the shambles that is the timetabling of fixtures, let alone fundamental questions like the economic inequality of the league, the choice becomes a depressingly simple one: like it or lump it.
Ultimately, two power-blocks decide. On the one hand, the 30 clubs that the LFP vice-president Javier Tebas has succeeded in controlling -- to use his own definition he is the "administrator of the audiovisual rights of 30 clubs." And on the other, the big two of Madrid and Barcelona. The rest are powerless. Or think they are. What the other clubs say and what the other clubs do is something completely different; what's really in their interests and what they do is as well.
Never has that been made more stark than at the league meeting held in the middle of last week. The previous week, Sevilla president José María Del Nido had invited 18 first division clubs -- all of them except Madrid and Barcelona -- to Seville to discuss the issues that confronted them. Del Nido's obsession was what he himself had called "A crap league -- the biggest pile of junk in Europe." In the end, 12 clubs turned up. On the agenda: the establishment of a central fund to control income, a central power to take decisions and a redistribution of TV money.
A recent proposed deal, established and prepared to come into force in 2015
Although concrete decisions were not made, there was a collective willingness to alter things in Spain -- an agreement that the current model could not continue. There were plans for more meetings, to which Madrid and Barcelona would be invited. "They weren't invited this time," Del Nido explained, "because their problems are so different to the rest of ours."
More discussions would be held but the first and most difficult step had been taken: they had recognized that there was a problem and vowed to so something about it.
"This cannot now be stopped," Del Nido said afterward. He even likened it to the French Revolution, adding: "and we all know how that guy ended up."
Seven days later, though, and it was Del Nido who saw the glistening blade of the Guillotene hanging over him. This revolution was crushed emphatically. When he entered the league's HQ in Madrid, Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez did not shake his hand. When he departed, four bitter and tense hours later, he did so defeated. At the moment of truth, he had been deserted. Madrid president Pérez and Barcelona president Sandro Rosell attacked him furiously. The 12 clubs that had been in Sevilla, the 12 clubs that had supposedly agreed on the need for change a week earlier, whistled and looked the other way.
"Madrid took a firm stance against Sevilla," the Sevilla vice-president José María del Cruz said afterward. "Some of the clubs even said sorry for coming to the meeting [in Seville] last week. This was a disgrace. The posture they have taken is: everyone against Sevilla. Some don't even want to hear of the possibility of a more just distribution of money. Only Espanyol and Betis stood by us. Everyone else has kept silent as if it was nothing to do with them."
Espanyol director Joan Collet -- who was unfortunate enough to be sitting between Pérez and Rosell -- described the scene. "I exposed myself [to their anger]," he said. "I said that I was part of the group of clubs [that had protested] and that Sevilla were merely the hosts. I said I hoped to be able to talk about the crap league and that I would do it again. But others backed out. The thing is, when Madrid and Barcelona stand before them, when Florentino [Pérez] starts to talk, the other clubs s--t themselves."
It was a telling comment; one that helped to explain how the league got itself into such a fine mess in the first place. The answer is simple: because that fine mess suits the big two -- the real economic motors of the league, the only ones genuinely able to generate significant amounts of cash. And for all the complaints, despite the reality of a league that no one can win but them, the other clubs chose not to challenge the country's giants. In seven days the league had gone from a rebellion and collapse to the status quo. All those criticisms and concerns had been silenced.
At the key moment, their nerve had failed them. The question was: why? There seemed to be no reason to back down: in Sevilla the rest of Spain's clubs had protected their interests, now they seemed to be going against them -- turkeys voting for Christmas. What was the worst thing that could happen?
That Madrid and Barcelona threaten to leave? Where to? The time is not yet right for a European Super League and when it is Madrid and Barcelona will go anyway. Besides the "go and find another league then, I dare you" argument was exactly the one used by the other clubs. Madrid and Barcelona's bluff could have been called. It wasn't.
One thing was clear: in the seven days between the meeting in Seville and the meeting in Madrid, pressure had been brought to bear upon the league's other clubs. The control of Tebas' 30 clubs is one thing; this was something else. Those clubs that escape his administration were backing down and pretending it was nothing to do with them too. they had felt under pressure and crumbled.
But what pressure? And why would they give in to it? How could Madrid and Barcelona exert so much power over them in a league that is theoretically one club, one vote? What promises were made? What threats? And how could they be so powerful as to completely destroy a movement for even daring to ask questions, that was little more than a think tank -- and a far from unified one at that? Why would clubs act against their own apparent interests? And if they had not, what hidden interests are there? How could they be so easily maneuvered?
It was illogical; suddenly issues that were fundamental seven days before no longer mattered. Once Madrid and Barcelona intervened, they saw it differently. But why? And were Madrid and Barcelona, the undisputed winners in the crushing of the revolution, the only ones exerting pressure? Whose interests were eerily being served. Something does not add up; something does not make sense. Frankly, something smells.
Many clubs lacked courage, others intelligence, almost all of them decency, and the consequences are clear. The meeting in Seville may or may not have been justified, its embryonic proposals may or may not have been workable or even justifiable. We will never really know: they never really got aired.
The rebellion has been quashed before it has even been able to pose questions within the LFP. Any questioning, any debate, is to be silenced. As for a redistribution of wealth, forget it. The league is fine. Move along now, there's nothing more to see. The risk of course is that one day soon that may be all too true.