The pain in Spain falls mainly on the poor

Questions are being asked in Brussels about why Spain has allowed its football clubs to build up vast, unpaid tax and social security debts, at a time when the country has gone cap in hand, requesting loans of  €40bn from eurozone taxpayers to prop up its ailing banks.

With many clubs in the top two divisions already having trouble paying bank debts totalling some €3.5bn, the move could well force some clubs into liquidation, claims today’s Guardian.

“This is unfair since all other Spanish taxpayers, as well as the other European football clubs, must, of course, be up to date with their tax payments,” said Willy Meyer, a Spanish MEP for the United Left coalition, in a recent question to the competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia.

Meyer pointed out that while clubs pay lavish salaries to attract big-name players, the cash-strapped Spanish government has imposed cuts on public services.

“It is incomprehensible that while taxes such as VAT are being increased and hospitals and public companies are being privatised as a means of generating short-term resources, these private, recreational bodies are receiving preferential tax treatment,” he said.

This theme was picked up last year by Uli Hoeness, the president of the German side Bayern Munich, who was unhappy that his fellow countrymen were being asked to subsidise spendthrift Spanish clubs.

“This beggars belief. We pay hundreds of millions of euros to keep Spain out of the shit and then they let the clubs off their debts,” said an understandably miffed Hoeness.

Professor José María Gay de Liébana, of the University of Barcelona, said reckless lending had created an unsustainable bubble, which when it bursts, will endanger all bar a handful of professional clubs.

“When people ask me what clubs could be in danger, I reply with the list of the only clubs that are not in any kind of danger. They are Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao,” said Gay de Liébana. “Hoeness is, basically, right. If I don’t pay my taxes, then the authorities come after me. But that doesn’t happen to the clubs, which are not treated like other companies.”

“Soccer is a very highly charged affair. If you go after a club too much, then the supporters may rise against you,” said Gay de Liébana.

That explains why Deportivo de La Coruña are in the firing line rather than a highly indebted but well-supported club such as Atlético Madrid.

“Deportivo fans are not going to block the streets of Madrid,” he said.

As for the future, well, it’s not too bright and all the signs indicate that Spain’s golden age may soon be coming to an end.

“Talent will flee to the Premier League in Britain or elsewhere,” concluded Gay de Liébana.

You can read more about the situation in today’s Guardian report.

Olympian ideals

Perhaps the EU competition authorities could turn their attention to the London Olympic stadium. Built at huge public expense to the tax payer and now to be handed over to West Ham for a pittance. Furthermore, to facillitate the move, the previously austere British government is throwing in another £25 million as a sweetener to ensure the deal goes ahead.

So, after years of procrastination and public enquiry, appeals and counter appeals, the 2012 Olympic stadium has finally found a tenant. West Ham will move into the Stratford Park venue from 2016 and at a stroke inherit a brand spanking new stadium with a capacity of 54,000 – all for the princely sum of £15 million.

The club’s vice chair Karren Brady said she was “delighted” to secure the deal, which is subject to planning permission, and would now embark on selling the idea to fans.

“It was important to me that we struck the right deal that would stand the test of time that represented the right deal for West Ham United and our loyal and patient supporters,” she said.

It was even more important that the right deal could be struck for the major shareholders, David Sullivan and David Gold, who will now be able to sell off the club’s Upton Park ground for a handsome price and eventually, when the furore over the Olympic stadium has died down, be able to sell off the club itself.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, who was delighted to rid himself of an albatross that has hung over the city for the past five years, was predictably disingenuous when discussing the deal.

“This is a truly momentous milestone for London’s spectacular Olympic stadium ensuring its credible and sustainable future,” he said. “Through this deal with West Ham we are defying the gloomsters who predicted this landmark would become a dusty relic.”

So,no dusty relic; in its place, we have a private football club receiving a brand new stadium built out of public funds. Moreover, conversion of the stadium, with retractable seats and a new cantilevered roof to cover them, will cost at least £150m. Of that, the majority will come from public money including a £40m loan from Newham Council.

In the circumstances, how could anyone not be a ‘gloomster’.

Hoax call

Rangers have suspended striker Francisco Sandaza pending an investigation into a hoax telephone call.

Sandaza, who signed from St Johnstone last summer, answered the call from a man purporting to be a football agent.

The striker then confirmed his contract details and declared himself interested in a move to another club, admitting that he was only at Rangers because the money was so good. Hardly a revelation one would have thought, but possibly a breach of his contract and somewhat embarrassing for the player.

After all, it takes a special kind of person who, when approached by a complete stranger, offers them details of their salary and expresses an eagerness to leave their current employer. Indeed, if the individual who conjured up the mythical Qatari Dream League required a figurehead for their fantasy, they need look no further than the gullible Sandaza.

“Francisco will not return to the club while the investigation is under way,” Rangers said.

A club statement read: “The club, Francisco and his agent have had discussions and manager Ally McCoist also spoke with the player, who did not take part in today’s training session.

“Rangers regard this is an extremely serious issue but there will be no further comment until the inquiry, which could take a week, has been completed.”

When asked whether Sandaza’s future at the club was in doubt, McCoist said: “I have no idea. We will have to wait to see what the investigation unfolds.”

Sandaza told the hoaxer, who used the alias Jack McGonagle, that he earned £4500 a week at Rangers, plus bonuses.

He added that his basic wage would rise to £5500 next year, £6500 the year after and £10,000 in the last year of his four-year deal, when Rangers expect to be back in the SPL.

Sandaza said he was happy at Rangers, adding: “The money is good. The club is amazing – it is a very, very big club – and the supporters are amazing.”

But he went on: “Obviously if I get a better league and more money I would go.

“I have been playing all my life to get a good contract for me and my family, so that is why I signed here. I wanted a contract that solved my life.”

He also told the hoaxer he had to be careful who he spoke to, because “some people can call me and record it then put it in the papers”.

“I haven’t met you face to face so I don’t know who I am talking to. I have been warned about it.”

But clearly, you didn’t listen.

Goal of the day

Mario Balotelli maintained his rich vein of form with a beautifully struck effort in Italy’s 2-2 draw with Brazil.

Quote of the day

“Concerning the timing of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, we have always reiterated that we bid on the parameters that we would host in the summer of 2022. Various figures from the world of football have raised preferences for hosting in the winter. We are ready to host the World Cup in summer or winter. Our planning isn’t affected either way…”

The winter World Cup just moved a step closer, according to this statement by the Qatar 2022 supreme committee.

Real deal

Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of the Operation Puerto blood-doping trial says Real Madrid owe him money for services rendered. Frustratingly, for those interested in discovering whether Fuentes numbered any football clubs among his clients, the not-so-good doctor refused to disclose the nature of the work he did for Real.

Fuentes told Spanish radio on Friday he was “interested in collecting on a debt from Real Madrid.”

When asked if the debt was for medical services he provided to the Spanish league champions, Fuentes responded, “I can’t answer that.”

Fuentes said he couldn’t remember what year the debt was from but that he wanted to collect now because it was an old debt that was about to be voided by the statute of limitations.

Fuentes’ lawyer, Tomas Valvidielso, said the debt “had nothing to do with Operation Puerto” and was from “2007, 2008 or 2009.”

Real Madrid spokeswoman Marta Santisteban told The Associated Press that the team will post a statement on its website if it feels it is necessary.

Highs and lows

Michael Owen has written about his decision to retire and looked back on the highs, the lows and the hamstring injury he suffered at the age of 19 that ultimately blighted the rest of his career.

Owen speaks about the emotions evoked by his decision to retire at the end of the season and looks ahead to a future which, contrary to what many people expected, he intends to spend in the football world.

“I have two overriding emotions,” he said. “The first is a sense of pride at not only what I achieved but how I achieved it. Winning virtually every trophy at club level is the stuff of dreams but in amongst all that there were some incredible days. Making my England debut having just turned 18 before heading to the World Cup where I would score ‘That Goal’.

“The second emotion that lives with me is a sense of ‘what might have been’ had injuries not robbed me of my most lethal weapon – speed. Many of my highlights were early on in my career and I can only wonder what more I would have achieved had my body been able to withstand the demands that I was making of it. I was almost too quick. My hamstring gave way in an away game at Leeds at the tender age of 19 and from that moment on my career as a professional footballer was compromised.”

As for the future, Owen, you will not be surprised to learn, will not be taking his UEFA coaching badges, but plans to represent the next generation of players.

“The representation of players is an area I believe I can excel in,” said the striker. “I propose to set up Michael Owen Management Limited focusing on guiding young players through their careers and offering them advice at every juncture of what can be a career full of pitfalls. I have seen so many horror stories during my own career. I feel genuinely excited by the opportunity of guiding some of our best talent through their formative years and beyond.”

And of course, like every former professional footballer who has nothing interesting to say, Owen fancies a secondary career as a pundit.

“At times during my career it has been difficult to express an opinion for a variety of reasons,” he said. “Close family and friends always tell me I am very opinionated so it will be nice to be able to express my views.”

War minus the shooting

A big weekend of World Cup qualifying matches kicks off today, but unquestionably the most eagerly anticipated game – certainly for the teams involved – will take place in the Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb, where Croatia meet Serbia for the first time ever.

To call the rivals old foes would be an insult to the thousands who lost their lives in the civil war that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Tonight’s match brings together two coaches, Croatia’s Igor Stimac, and Serbia’s Sinisa Mihajlovic, who have a shared history and a genuine deep enmity borne out of the terrible events of 20 years ago.

To read more about the background to tonight’s game, there’s a genuinely insightful piece by World Soccer’s Jonathan Wilson in today’s Guardian.

Stat of the day

Sergio Ramos will become the youngest European player to reach 100 caps in international football when he steps out for Spain on Friday in their World Cup 2014 qualifier against Finland in Gijon.

Ramos, who is still only 26, will be the first European to reach three figures at such a young age, beating Germany striker Lukas Podolski, who reached the milestone at Euro 2012, by 21 days.

The defender made his Spain debut in 2005 when he was just 18, and has barely missed a game since, en route to collecting 2 European Championship winning medals and 1 World Cup winners medal.


Kevin-Prince Boateng insists he would even walk off in the final of the World Cup or Champions League if he was racially abused.

The Milan midfielder, who led his team off during a pre-season friendly match in Italy after being abused, has been appointed to FIFA’s new anti-discrimination task force.

The Ghana international said there should be zero tolerance towards racism. Asked if he would walk off again if abused, he told CNN World Sport: “I think we should not accept and tolerate it anywhere, in any game. Even if it’s a World Cup final, if it’s a Champions League final.

“For me, honestly, I would do it even in the Champions League final. If I feel it is racial abuse, I would do it even in the Champions League final.

“Of course it’s a different situation – there’s a lot of money involved and if my team-mates would follow me, I don’t know because it’s a totally different situation. But for my part, I would do exactly the same.”

FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, said he was delighted that Boateng has agreed to join the task force and stressed the need for tougher sanctions on racism.

“I’ve said before, empty stadiums or imposing fines is inadequate. Sanctions have to be severe – points deductions or disqualification,” he said on Twitter.

“FIFA needs strong personalities like Kevin-Prince Boateng to bring experience and credibility. I invited him to be part of FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force and I’m delighted that he accepted.”

It’s hard to believe that this is the same person, who a little over a year ago, not only denied racism was a problem in football, but also advised players suffering racial abuse on the pitch to offer a handshake to their their tormentors.

“There is no racism [on the field], but maybe there is a word or gesture that is not correct,” Blatter told CNN. “The one affected by this should say this is a game and shake hands.”

Perhaps a leopard can change its spots.