While Barcelona, Real and Atletico Madrid continue to contest honours on both the domestic and international stage, it appears that there may be an undercurrent of more disturbing issues aside from the glitz and panache so much in evidence with the giants of Spanish football. The refusal of the Racing Santander players to participate in their Copa del Rey quarter-final against Real Sociedad demonstrates the other end of the spectrum where staff have not been paid by club directors since September.
Racing Santander were a La Liga team until successive relegations beginning in the 2011-12 season and they now occupy a prominent position in the third tier Secunda B division. Accusations of board mismanagement have been rife which culminated in the refusal to play on Wednesday night, a show of defiance fully supported by coaching staff and supporters alike. The players of Real Sociedad showed their approval by just passing the ball among themselves until the match was soon abandoned.
With staff wages not being paid since September, it begs the question of whether there may be more clubs operating in a similar state in a country which has endured a significant economic recession and where there have been accusations of favouritism towards the top Spanish clubs in the use of public finances.
It cannot help the lower league clubs that unlike with the English FA Cup and French Coupe de France, there is a very restrictive entry procedure for the equivalent Copa del Rey. Only clubs from the top two tiers plus the leading five teams from the four groups of Secunda B are allowed to compete in the following season’s competition together with the champions of the 4th tier league.
Such a format allows limited opportunity for lower level teams to earn much needed revenue from playing one of the more high-profile clubs in Spanish football. The current Copa del Rey semi-final line-up of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Sociedad and Real Madrid suggests a definite monopoly of the domestic prizes by the richer clubs with seemingly little thought for prospective giant-killing acts.
If anything, the public on-pitch strike by Racing Santander players may yet become a watershed in Spanish football by publicising the financial problems which may be more prevalent in the lower divisions and which are rarely mentioned on the main football channels.
The Santander hierarchy may now be sufficiently embarrassed to offer concessions to both the playing and coaching staff with formal resignations a distinct possibility, but if more teams follow suit, it will show that the Spanish football authorities may need to look inwards towards the real grass root teams.
Barcelona and Real Madrid might provide a good advert for the Spanish game but the lower level teams cannot be completely ignored.