Aleeeee Real Murcia .....

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Liga Of Gentlemen?

The personal conflict between La Liga president Javier Tebas and Real Murcia owner Jesus Samper may have far wider implications than just the relegation (or not) of one team. It has brought to the fore a whole host of issues facing La Liga; mismanagement and cronyism at best, running a dictatorship and being in contempt of court at worst.

The individual case of Real Murcia bears little scrutiny. Tebas and Samper are sworn enemies for more than a decade. It seems that Tebas considered this summer the perfect opportunity of take Samper down (Real Murcia being the unfortunate victim). Samper’s infamous timing giving Tebas what seemed the appropriate situation. Paperwork wasn’t in order, and no agreement on debt payment had been reached with Hacienda (Spain’s inland revenue). The various commissions and arbitrators (all part of the Liga’s own justice system) condemned Real Murcia to Segunda B on August 7, just 16 days before the season was to begin.

Tebas stated on the day (without any sign of irony) that “it’s important to give priority to the integrity of the competition, and try to make clubs as equal as possible in terms of economy. There is pressure on football to have financial control, so that the competition be true on an economic level”. All sounds very correct. Until you remember that he oversees and approves of the outrageous way TV revenue is split up in Spain. Evidently he means all teams should have control and compete, except Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, who seem to be on another planet. See these 2 graphs that compare how TV money is distributed in different European leagues.

1. Madrid and Barcelona dwarf all other teams TV revenue.

2.  Ratio between highest and lowest income from TV. Plain crazy.

I wonder how much longer the Premier league will accept Real Madrid and Barcelona taking the Premier’s best players (last 2 seasons, Bale and Suarez) and winning the Champions league whilst benefitting from an unfair system. There will need to be a fairer distribution; maybe even a UEFA-wide criteria for splitting the available money in each league. The effect on the rest of Spanish football is clear. Empty stadiums anywhere expect where Madrid and Barcelona play are testament. Not just the TV share is unjust. Madrid and Barcelona are amongst the biggest debtors to Spain's IR, owing probably hundreds of millions. I wonder how much Chelsea, City, Arsenal and Man Utd owe the UK taxman? Probably a big fat ZERO, as it's totally unacceptable. 

Gabilondo (of sports paper AS) went as far as to tweet last week that "How do you explain to a child in Murcia that their team is relegated because of those that rule the game? We are moving towards a simple choice between Madrid and Barcelona".

But back to the Real Murcia case. Tebas also stated on the 7 August, that “other teams have reached agreement with hacienda. The case of Real Murcia is that they were being asked to find 13 million euros in 24 hours”. Clearly stating that Hacienda had been the catalyst to Real’s relegation. Tebas’s plan all seemed to be going to plan, until it started to leak. Hacienda released a statement shorty after that made it clear that “the ministry wants to make clear that if a team is relegated, it is only because of the Liga’s internal rules, and in no case due to the grade of completion on any payment obligations to the Inland Revenue”. Seems there is some confusion. Tebas claims hacienda obliged Murcia to find 13 million, hacienda say relegation is purely internal Liga business.

After this, Real Murcia had one last straw to grasp at; the ordinary justice system (not the Liga’s own internal version). Thankfully sense was seen, and the number 7 court in Madrid ordered on 12 August, the “immediate inscription and affiliation of Real Murcia FC to the National League of Football professional for season 2014/2015”. Against this higher judge no possible recourse is available.  The Liga are obliged to reinstate Real Murcia. However, they had already confirmed Mirandés would take Murcia’s place, so another team are dragged into the scenario.

Far from accepting the judge’s instruction (“immediate inscription”) Tebas and the Liga have dragged their feet, preferring to hold a meeting on Monday, a full 6 days after the judge ruled. Disobedience of a judge is a serious issue, and Tebas may find himself in some hot water very quickly. But then his performance is fairly typical of a totalitarian ruler; never admitting he’s wrong, and thinking himself even to be above the law.

The meeting on Monday will discuss what is to happen – for the moment the start of Segunda has been delayed. I have to ask, how difficult can it be to rearrange fixtures? Any learner on Excel could probably come up with something in a question of minutes.

Real Murcia president Samper held a press conference after the ruling, making the allegation that Tebas had made Real Murcia a scapegoat. A “made to measure suit” he called it (“un traje a medida”). If we look at the facts, it seems he has a case. Real Murcia’s debt is far from the worst in total, even less so in terms of debt to Inland Revenue. Overall debt to IR has reduced for 600m to 475m in a year. A reduction of 21%. In the same timespan Real Murcia have reduced from 18m to 13m, a reduction of 28%. What reason to stop this progress other than personal vendetta?

Since the ruling, Tebas has put his publicity machine in full motion. Cronies in the press have been used, but some have broken ranks. An article by Antonio Millán in “Diario de Jerez” supported Tebas’ position. Investigation revealed Millán to be a close associate. Said article was sent by Tebas via whatsapp to other journalists to create anti Real Murcia feeling. Sports “newspaper” Marca, rather predictably, front paged with “The League in Flames” blaming Real Murcia for stopping the start of play. Valladolid chairman Carlos Suarez also came out in support of Tebas and the Liga. Another Tebas crony. And extremely rich coming from the chairman of a club whose debt to hacienda (40m) dwarfs Real Murcia’s. All this just looks to me like a dictator in the desperate death throws of his corrupt regime.

I think we all agree on the need for financial control, and this needs to be overseen by the league. But the rules must be the same for all, and no punishments can be handed out because of personal conflict.

Fans of all teams (expect of course the two untouchables) should be behind Real Murcia in this battle. The need for regime change at the Liga is clear. If it doesn’t happen, they could be next on Tebas’s list.

I believe Tebas’ house of cards could be about to fall. Dissent is growing. Independent legal experts say the Liga’s position isn’t defendable and is legally shaky. Articles are being published openly critical of Tebas. Interesting week ahead.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Sopranos (Javier and Jesús)

The LFP decided not to allow Real Murcia to participate in next season’s Segunda competition, and condemned Real to Group 1 of Segunda B. The reasoning seems to change from day to day, the procedure also. One day the LFP (the league) say Hacienda (equivalent to Inland Revenue) have denied Real the chance to reorganize their debt, and insist on relegation. Next day Hacienda insists they have not. Owner Jesús Samper says one day he has reached agreement with hacienda in Murcia, next day hacienda in Madrid say no such agreement exists. Then the LFP make new rules and invent some new “ratio” that clubs have to complete, custom made so 1 team (Real) don’t, and apply these rules retroactively to last season. The commission that were meeting on Thursday to decide on Real’s future (12 members, representing 12 clubs), were to vote on Real’s inclusion. Then, the LFP decided there would be no vote and only a ratification of a decision already made, because Real Murcia had not met the “ratio” requirements. One day after the announcement of Real’s relegation, the LFP have changed their mind again and now the relegation is because of “non payment proceedings”. What is clear is that there is no set criteria, and the new set of rules and ratios needed a team to make an example of, and Real fit the bill perfectly, with our unpopular, bighead, ex LFP president and sworn enemy of now LFP president Javier Tebas, Jesús Samper at the helm. Now Samper is famously slow to react, and whilst other, worse off clubs managed to get all their ducks in a row, he always insists “I decide when it is time” (“nosotros marcamos los tiempos”). This time, time ran out, and now Samper’s house of cards seems to be falling in on him because of his negligence. It’s as if he was walking around in front of an armed enemy, with a massive target on his back. Tebas took his chance, even mentioning that “even if Samper came along with €8m to pay his tax bill, now it’s too late”.

This is the second time Real have been relegated in this manner. The last time the LFP changed their rules, Real Murcia were also made an example of. Back in 1992, when all clubs had to become “SAD” (Limited companies). Real failed to sell the required value in shares.  The following season Sevilla and Celta had the same situation and were relegated, only to be reinstated. Note that Real Madrid and Barcelona were not subject to this rule change – they still aren’t. But then those 2 always live outside the rules. 

For some perspective, a few facts: The total debts of football clubs in Spain stands at €4,114,000,000. Real Murcia’s debts total anywhere between €30,000,000 and €40,000,000. Let’s take the middle number and call it €35,000,000. A lot. Too much. But a lot less that many clubs in a similar position and who will be allowed to compete in Segunda next season, and just 0,85% of the total. The part of this debt owed to the taxman is around €10m. Of the total Spanish clubs owe to the taxman (around €600,000) it represents only 1,6% of the total.    Seems clear that Real Murcia have been singled out for punishment.

There are also a few other contributing factors, which make Real an easy target (again). Contempt for Murcia is pretty generalized amongst Spaniards, who see Murcia as a backwater, and it’s residents as country bumpkins, ill educated and backwards, whose accent they find almost indecipherable. “Kill the King, and go to Murcia” is a common saying. They bring a lot of this upon themselves by being weak in defence of their own; unlike most other regions, there is little or no regionalist political movement. When regional government is of the same colour as the national government, they tow the line, and gain nothing. When regional and national governments of distinct colour, then Murcia gets less than nothing. But it doesn’t matter – it’s only Murcia. In football terms, the same applies, and the Murcians (in their majority) do not lend their support to their local team, preferring the easy, lazy and dishonest route to glory; Real Madrid or FC Barcelona. I’m sure that big city people see this a boorish. That is, in the 6 cities bigger than Murcia (Spain’s 7th city).

The punishment being dished out doesn’t just stop at relegation. The LFP are also practicing further torture on Real. Segunda B is split into 4 regional groups (Spain being a far bigger country than say England). Real will have to occupy the place of Mirandés (the team promoted in Real’s place) in group 1, which geographically is in the opposite corner of the country. The nearest rival is around 500 kilometres away. There is also a €180,000 fine to pay. It’s sadistic and mal-intentioned. It’s help LFP style.

All this leaves the club at best in limbo, at worst on it’s deathbed, desperately clutching at straws and legal loopholes. Playing staff are almost all looking for alternatives. The AFE (footballers union) said in Murcia on Tuesday that they would “not permit that rules made by the clubs (LFP) effect the players”. This was clear posture in favour of Real Murcia, whose relegation they saw as “an injustice”.  Or at least they saw it that way until Mirandés playing staff complained that they were also being affected. After Real’s relegation, the AFE, so far, far from taking any action, have done nothing. Behind the scenes they are probably urging their members to abandon ship.

LFP President Tebas has many of the same characteristics as Samper. Totalitarian, dictatorial, and seemingly infallible in their own minds. However, he is overseeing the disaster that is Spanish football anywhere outside Madrid and Barcelona. The FA have rules and investigate prospective owners, and have a “fit and proper person” test that has to be passed. The FA makes clear that all football debts must be cleared before the start of any season, upon punishment of relegation. There are no doubts about the rules. Going into administration means a points deduction. No such controls or rules exist here in Spain. Half of the teams in Primera and Segunda have gone into administration, and exactly zero points have been deducted. Tebas also delights in his power; whilst planning the relegation of Real Murcia, he toured the US with Deportivo La Coruña, whose debts are around 10 times (yes, ten!) Real Murcia’s. Can you imagine the chairman of the Premier league or FA doing such a thing? Or being photographed happily lunching each week with Florentino Perez (President of Real Madrid)? This is not your normal diligent leader. This is Tony Soprano. He even said, without any hint of irony, yesterday in the same press conference that condemned Real Murcia, that “we want all teams to compete in economic equality”. That’s the equality that gives Madrid and Barcelona 50% of the cake, and 50% amongst all the other 40 professional teams.

Clubs going into administration in Spain can proceed with a “quita”, which is an agreed reduction of debt with creditors. Something like, creditors agreeing to receive half, rather than see the club closed and getting nothing. Now Samper is such a big-head, he, taking Real into administration, refused that opportunity to reduce debt, preferring to puff his chest out and insist on “paying 100%”. The trick being that most of the club’s debt is to Samper companies who injected cash into the club to cover losses accrued under, you guessed, Samper’s own disastrous regime.

This chaos leads to situations where a club like Levante, who went into administration owing Real around €2m for the transfer of Pedro León, got away with paying Real €1m less, yet were amongst the 12 clubs on the commission who were denied the opportunity to vote on Real’s future. How would they have voted? Probably whatever Tebas dictated.

To add insult to injury, the LFP twitter account (@laliga) is blocking Real fans and even the official supporters club (as far as I can see, no insults, only legitimate questions are being asked). This is Spain. Not Cuba, not Venezuela, not Burma.

While the club agonizes, Samper marks time. Silence. He has one final straw to clutch. He is taking the case to “ordinary justice”. If he can get a judge to admit the case, the LFP may be forced to readmit Real Murcia. Extremely unlikely in my opinion.  Whatever the outcome, Samper’s position as owner is untenable. He’s been found out as a fraud and a liar, and a very inept businessman.

Difficult times. Segunda B doesn’t worry me. It’s the very existence of the club that does.