August 23rd, 2011
11:38 AM ET

Why are Spanish footballers on strike?

David Villa and David Silva are two of the stars Valencia have had to sell in order to balance the books.
David Villa and David Silva are two of the stars Valencia have had to sell in order to balance the books.

Given the widespread notion that all footballers in Europe are multi-millionaire, Ferrari-owning playboys you would be forgiven for thinking that many of the players in Spain's La Liga were acting in a spoilt manner by striking for money.

If you did, I wouldn’t blame you - the postponement of the first day of fixtures for one of the world's finest leagues is enough to warrant strong emotion - but it would be a misplaced opinion.

The downing-of-tools in Spain has nothing to do with the rich and famous soccer stars of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Rather, it has everything to do with average professionals who are owed money, a lot of money, by clubs that have been mismanaged and are currently teetering on the edge of the financial abyss.

Let’s face it, in an age where some footballers earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a week, it’s difficult to imagine those employed by the "beautifual game" suffering from fiscal floundering.

But for every millionaire there are hundreds of professional athletes who live cheque to cheque.

In Spain, the situation for most football clubs is dire. While the likes of Real and Barcelona have been taking home over $200 million each from TV revenue every year, and many more millions from Champions League prize money and endorsements, most other clubs are struggling to make ends meet.

Many first division clubs have averaged only $10 million in TV revenue per season. Not enough to compete at the top level and to stay among the country’s elite.

Unfortuntely, the ambition to remain competitive has led many Spanish clubs to live beyond their means, with their many campaigns built on credit finally coming back to haunt them.

Did you know that in the last two years, 22 of the 42 clubs from the professional leagues have been in administration at one time or another?

Did you know that even a club like Valencia, who have been in the Champions League five of the last ten seasons, have a huge debt (estimated at $700 million) and still struggles to avoid bankruptcy?

The Valencia case is one that shows just how irresponsible many Spanish clubs have been. This is a big club, which has a decent fan base and a good brand but is currently sinking in a self-made mire.

The mixture of countless poor signings, exorbitant player wages, severance payments to coaches and a botched stadium move have forced Valencia to sell most of their top players just to survive.

Over the last two seasons, they have let go Carlos Marchena, David Silva, David Villa and now Juan Mata for a combined $170 million. Players who could have helped them obtain domestic and European success but instead, they had to be cashed in for the club to be able to pay off their debt and to pay employees’ salaries.

Which brings me to why the players have gone on strike.

Two hundred of them are currently owed a combined $70 million by their clubs. Many of them haven’t been paid in a year. A fact that must be all the more sickening when watching players like Lionel Messi take home many thousands of dollars in wages per week.

They have had enough and the Association of Spanish Footballers (AFE) has taken a stand. The AFE has been trying to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the League in order to ensure this does not happen again.

It wants league officials to create a special fund to protect players’ salaries. It also wants to introduce a clause that would allow a player to break his contract if he isn’t paid for three straight months.

So what next? The ball is in the League’s court. They have to find a way, with the help of the clubs, to pay off the money they currently owe to players.

After that, they have to make sure this situation does not happen again. Introducing a law which penalizes clubs which enter administration would go a long way to convince owners and chairmen that they can’t live in debt.

It might also go a long way to convincing players to do what they are paid to do. Take to the pitch and entertain us.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Other Dave

    Two greedy club ruining it for the rest.

    August 23, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  2. :)

    Get it right!!! Both Villa and Silva left Valencia a while back!

    August 23, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  3. juan

    The players want "league officials to create a special fund to protect players’ salaries". True, that would be nice, but why don't you guys (Messi, Ronaldo, etc) create that fund instead of asking someone else to create it while going on strike? Solidarity starts with your own money, you baby millionaires.

    August 23, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  4. gordon strachan

    no big secret here- they need to spread that tv money around more evenly. you may just end up with a more competitive league as well..

    August 23, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  5. Spanish national

    Spain wants to look as an European country and the only news from there has a picture of a guy who looks as a Mexican. :(

    August 23, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  6. Fer

    Nicely explained. A good view for all those who live abroad but we would like some words from clubs management and how they can explain their mismanagement.

    August 23, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  7. rents

    I'm Spanish and the article is right in every paragraph. The TV money goes mostly to the richest clubs (Madrid and Barcelona) and the rest cannot afford to pay their players. Evidently, it's their fault as they signed those contracts but the TV money share must be fairer or Spanish Liga will stop being one of the most important ones in the world. When that happens, international top players will prefer to play in England or Italy rather than in a devaluated competition.

    August 23, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  8. Miguel

    Players want to be paid and Valencia has no debt with the players. So the strike is not precisely cause Valencia debt.

    August 23, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Reply
  9. Gareth

    It is one thing for the big clubs to insist on their own TV deals because they claim everyone wants to watch them, but if it was Barcelona vs Real Madrid every week , we would all be switching the channels. Look at Scotland if you want to see how bad it can get. A fine line between ambition and greed.

    August 23, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  10. me

    it's soccer...you kick a ball and fall down crying when someone bumps into you....wimps.

    August 24, 2011 at 12:44 am | Reply
  11. Be Realistic

    The notion that this crisis is Barcelona or Real Madrid's fault is absolutely ridiculous, low-hanging fruit that proves a lack of knowledge about both basic business management and professional sports.

    Also, it's interesting that this article didn't mention the fact that Spain's entire economy is teetering on the brink of collapse, which has had a dire effect on stadium revenues. Even Barcelona and Real Madrid have trouble packing their own home pitch unless they're playing eachother, and even though Barcelona took a shirt-front sponsor this year for the first time in their 111 year history, they're still in debt.

    August 24, 2011 at 12:52 am | Reply
  12. Dave Mack

    The fact is there are only two sides in Spain and the rich are getting richer. All this will just hasten the establishment of a European Super League which I for one am really looking forward to.

    August 24, 2011 at 12:55 am | Reply
  13. Nostromo45

    So football clubs force themselves into the red, clubs like Valencia, Sporting, Atletic, Valladolid, Zaragoza, etc., just the same as countries like Greece – or the USA – go bankrupt and need "bailouts".
    The hungry football-mad mobs are to blame: they want more and more and better and better – or the best. Ah, we in Spain are THE BEST in the world....... ufffffffff
    Yea, OK, but football breeds low intellect among its fervent fans, so the clubs overspend in order to deliver results – or at least try to.
    Money is the root of all bank account upsets.

    August 24, 2011 at 1:35 am | Reply
  14. Neil

    What the players are asking for is similar to what is offered in the other major leagues in Europe (Italy, France, England, Germany)

    August 24, 2011 at 4:25 am | Reply
  15. Letsavit

    Spanish football is not alone in being populated by delusional incompetents. Most clubs in the Barclay's Premier League also run at a loss despite the massive investment of TV money from Sky. But the problem runs deeper than the alleged mismanagement of club funds. In these tough economic times football as an industry is just too expensive. From admission charges to merchandising to transfer fees to players and coaches salaries the game is just out of step with the current economic reality. The "greed is good" mentality belongs in the 1980's, yet there's little sign of any real austerity measures, and sensible budgeting is frequently derided as representing a lack of ambition (see Arsenal). Many big clubs perpetuate the over-spending, often with help from benefactors who can afford to take the financial hit on a vanity project because they're so insanely wealthy - previously indebted Chelsea, for example, had the slate wiped clean by Roman Abramovic even though it made no business sense for him to do so. Alternatively, clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona, while ostensibly owned by member fans (the socios), are essentially state owned and deemed such an important part of their respective region's identity that fiscal failure is not allowed and they therefore enjoy financial cossetting to ensure they stay afloat. Furthermore, football, which embraces the law of the jungle on the field, lacks the social conscience off it that could ameliorate the problem by leveling the financial playing field. Consequently, the big clubs demand and get the lion’s share of what revenue is available simply because they’re traditionally the biggest clubs. Their dominance is therefore self-perpetuating, but at a cost to their smaller would-be rivals who must go deeper and deeper into debt to stand any hope of catching up. Of course, we’re talking about degrees of debt, as real solvency for any club is a rarity nowadays, but what the big clubs need to realize is that by eroding the opposition they’re digging their own grave. What happens when they’ve priced everyone else out of the market? And who will creditors come after once they’ve bled the minnows dry? If the big clubs are complacent just look outside the game where the credit crunch, which began in 2008, claimed the little people first, finally getting round to the big dog only this year when the USA lost its triple-A credit rating amidst multi-trillion dollars of debt. Apply that logic to football and you’ll see the current crisis in Spain may be only the tip of the iceberg. Today we’re talking about a handful of expendables not getting paid; tomorrow we could be looking at the demise of the whole game unless the current fiscal irresponsibility is curtailed.

    August 25, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Reply
  16. femi

    hi barca fans do no barca is one of the best teem in the wold if u dont belive me reply to my facebook@fadebisi

    September 5, 2011 at 7:21 am | Reply
  17. Bali Golf Course

    In these tough economic times football as an industry is just too expensive. From admission charges to merchandising to transfer fees to players and coaches salaries the game is just out of step with the current economic reality......

    October 13, 2011 at 2:49 am | Reply

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