Spain's strike is off, but for how long?
This has been a week of discontent in Spanish football, with talk of strikes almost overshadowing everything else here, including Spain's relentless march towards the Euro 2012 finals.
Games in the Spanish first division will finally go ahead this weekend after a Madrid court ruled on Wednesday that the top-tier clubs couldn't withdraw their labour after all.
However, the concluding comments of the presiding magistrate Purification Pujol were hardly an overwhelming endorsement of the six so-called "rebel" clubs - Sevilla, Villarreal, Real Zaragoza, Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad - who took legal action to have the strike called off.
"The League has adopted the calendar and it would be a very unusual situation if we were to reject this injunction which would then result in a sudden change in the calendar," said Pujol, making little comment about the reasons behind the strike call.
What this means is that the strike is off for now. However the remaining 14 clubs, who wanted to cancel this weekend's games - which included a tricky visit by league leaders Barcelona to third-placed Villarreal - are still frothing at the mouth to get changes to the broadcasting laws that means at least one game every weekend has to be available on free-to-air television.
The cancellation of the strike allows Barcelona to try to do the 'double' over Villarreal. Photo: Getty
You might well ask, as people have been for the last six weeks or so, why this issue has cropped up now, when the law has been in place since 1997.
And why has it been presented with the sort of tub-thumping rhetoric usually more associated with trade unions rather than Spain's football club presidents, self-styled captains of industry?
Obviously, the broadcasting industry has changed in the last decade and the numbers of channels has grown hugely in most European nations.
In Spain, there are several dedicated football-only channels, usually available by subscription, along with various club's own channels such as Barca TV and Real Madrid TV, which are widely available, via satellite TV or broadband packages.
More importantly, though, the answer is that the Spanish first division clubs are now paying, literally in some cases, for years of financial mismanagement.
Jose Luis Astiazaran, president of the LFP, the federation of Spanish professional football clubs, revealed rather discretely on a well-known radio show last week that Spanish clubs - including the second division clubs that were not going to go on strike - currently owe the Spanish tax authorities 694m Euros.
In some cases, the debts extend back for more than a decade. With the Spanish economy in crisis and government's budget deficits still not under control, the taxmen are no longer in the mood to be lenient about when the cash will come in.
They are putting pressure - fairly subtly at the moment but with some clubs it is bound to get nasty - to get their money, and reasonably quickly.
By contrast, Astiazaran reckons that if the clubs themselves had complete control over the TV rights deals and the once-a-week fans' freebie was scrapped, it could be worth 800m Euros in the medium term.
I think you get the picture - as long as you have paid for it, if you'll pardon the pun. If the government acquiesces on broadcasting rights, then they get their taxes paid.
It also means that more clubs can balance their books and also, as quietly expressed by several senior LFP officials, makes them less likely to come under foreign ownership, which is what happened in January when the Bahrain-based Indian businessman Ahsan Ali Syed bought Racing Santander.
There is still a huge resistance in Spain - often for xenophobic reasons - to the type of takeovers that have become commonplace in the Premier League but when Syed took over the perennial mid-table Racing, the core part of the deal was that he paid off the club's tax bill, which were thought to have risen to 20m Euros and which effectively was two-thirds of the purchase price.
Ahsan Ali Syed bought Racing Santander in January. Photo: Getty
The scene is now set for things to get bloody during the summer between the LFP - which has hardly come out smelling of roses in this debate - and the Spanish government.
Let's not be naïve; it is one of the few big issues which the beleaguered ruling party of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has got extensive public backing on and so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them milking it for all its worth ahead of next year's national elections.
But I wouldn't be surprised to find the start of next season delayed by several weeks if the wrangling isn't resolved quickly.
Continuing the theme of football strikes, there could be one by the Rayo Vallecano players on Saturday.
The Spanish second division leaders, who hail from Madrid's less-than-salubrious southern suburbs, are bidding to return to the top flight next season after being relegated in 2003 and even spending four years in Spain's semi-professional third tier, the Segunda B.
The players have not been paid since the start of the season, despite creditably giving their all on the field in recent months, including a 1-0 win over second placed Real Betis last Sunday.
"We aren't ruling out refusing to travel to Valladolid. It's a situation no one in the squad wants but it is an alternative we have," Rayo team captain Michel told a media conference on Wednesday.
"We feel we are on our own. No one is helping us. The LFP wants more money but the players don't get paid," he added.
"At the last meeting with the [Rayo] owners they said they would try to do something from ticket sales, but we haven't seen a euro. We feel as though someone isn't being straight with us.
"We are also owed money from last season. We have received some money, it is different for each player, but they still owe us money from last year," commented Michel, despite the fact that clubs are supposed to clear all their debts to players by the end of each season to avoid automatic relegation.
For more background on what has been happening at Rayo, I can recommend a very good When Saturday Comes article written a few weeks ago.
However, with a three-point deduction for failing to fulfil a fixture, Rayo players have become adamant over the last week that they are prepared to sacrifice promotion in exchange for something in their pay packets.
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