TV spat threatens La Liga matchday 30
In the latest edition of our Monday Spanish soccer blog, Mark Elkington looks at a dispute that threatens the next round of La Liga matches, Spainâ€™s Euro 2012 qualifiers against Czech Republic and Lithuania and the problems affecting second-division leaders Rayo Vallecano.
Many of La Ligaâ€™s finest packed their bags and headed off to represent their countries last week while the action in Spain switched from the pitch to the courtroom.
The professional soccer league (LFP) voted last month to postpone the 30th round of matches due to be played on April 2/3 unless the government scrapped a rule that one La Liga game per weekend be shown on freeview television.
The league argues that removing the obligation to show the free game would strengthen their position in negotiations with media companies on selling audiovisual rights.
Negotiations between the LFP, the clubs and the government have yet to yield a solution, and have been complicated by the decision of six teams to break away and challenge the â€śstrikeâ€ť action.
The so called G6, which includes heavyweights Sevilla and Villarreal, have challenged the postponement as illegal and a judge is set to hear the case for and against on Tuesday, with a decision due to be announced on Wednesday.
If the postponement goes ahead it will seriously disrupt an already packed calendar.
Clubs would likely have to play their final round of matches on the weekend of June 11-12 because of the Champions League final and a round of international matches in the first week of June.
As to this weekendâ€™s matches, which include leaders Barcelona visiting third-placed Villarreal and Real Madrid at home to Sporting Gijon, it is, typically, the fans who will suffer the most.
The day — Saturday, Sunday or Monday — and the kickoff times have yet to be decided so Real Mallorca cannot expect to have too many fans travelling from the Balearic island to the north-west corner of Spain at possibly two-days notice for their match against Deportivo Coruna.
Likewise, northerners Athletic Bilbao might find themselves without much support 700 kilometres away on the Andalusian coast in Almeria.
Similar disputes have always seems to find a solution at the last minute, although in this case, and with time running out,Â the LFP and the government appear very far apart.
Spain and mud
World and European champions Spain continued their remarkable record in qualifying tournaments coming back to beat Czech Republic 2-1 at home last Friday.
They have won four from four in qualifying for Euro 2012, have won their last ten competitive matches since losing to Switzerland at last yearâ€™s World Cup finals, and have strung together 18 straight qualifying wins since a 1-1 draw in Iceland in 2007.
David Villa may not have as high a profile as his misfiring strike partner Fernando Torres, but he delivered the goods once again with both goals against the Czechs
â€śEl Guajeâ€ť (The kid) took his tally with Spain to 46 goals from 72 matches, making the 29-year-old Barca frontman the countryâ€™s leading all-time scorer ahead of Raul, who bagged 44 from 102 caps.
Next up are Lithuania on Tuesday, where the threat of postponement rears its ugly head again.
The muddy, almost grassless pitch in Kaunas has prompted coach Vicente del Bosque to recommend putting off the match, while Andres Iniesta reminisced â€śit reminds me of the dirt pitches we used to play on when we were young.â€ť
A decision on whether the game will go ahead will be made on Tuesday, though it would be interesting to see how Spainâ€™s slick, short-passing game coped with the conditions.
A ray of hope for Rayo
Rayo Vallecano hit the top of the second division on Sunday night, beating promotion rivals Real Betis 1-0 at their compact Teresa Rivero stadium, and helped lift some of the gloom surrounding Madridâ€™s â€śfourth clubâ€ť (Behind Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Getafe who all play in La Liga).
Rayoâ€™s players and staff have not been paid and the owners, the Ruiz-Mateos family, have applied to put the club into administration. Many of the squad are still owed cash from last season.
There were noisy protests against the owners during their tense tussle with Betis, who are another side in trouble.
Rayo have 61 points with 11 games left to play, Betis, who are already in administration, have 59, while third-placed Celta Vigo, who have just emerged from administration, have 55.
They are just three of the smaller clubs in Spain suffering financial woes. A more even sharing of television revenue, which is the background to the dispute over the freeview game I mentioned at the start, would appear to be more urgent than ever for the good of the whole of Spanish football.
PHOTO: Jose Luis Astiazaran (R), president of Spain’s Professional Soccer League (LFP), attends a meeting at the headquarters of the LFP in Madrid November 6, 2009. REUTERS/Susana Vera.