Inside La Liga: Spanish football off to a stumbling start

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and company returned to action over the weekend - mercifully ending an off-season remarkable for the infighting and incompetence of those running Spanish football.

Inside La Liga: Spanish football off to a stumbling start

Before the summer even started, the rows had begun. The La Liga authorities [LFP] wanted 2015/16 to begin on August 15, but the Spanish federation [RFEF] and Players Union [AFE] wanted a later start. It took until mid-July, with clubs already into their pre-season programmes, before Spain’s sports minister Miguel Cardenal mandated an August 22 commencement.

The LFP then released the fixture list, only for the government to again reschedule many games and push the season end back to May 22, a week after most of Europe’s other major leagues. This led national coach Vicente Del Bosque to complain that “nobody thinks of Spain”, saying the new date would disrupt his Euro 2016 preparations.

Wednesday, two days before games began, came a fourth calendar change. The final round of fixtures was brought forward a week - with the reshuffle seeing matches during the Christmas period for the first time since 1990.

“Thanks to AFE for consulting with us and informing us at all moments about the change in the calendar… Oh wait!,” tweeted Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa, in obvious disapproval.

La Liga president Javier Tebas explained the latest changes in AS on Friday.

“I spoke with AFE president, Luis Rubiales, and we agreed to play over Christmas,” Tebas said.

“I appreciate his effort. La Liga wants to help the national team, but we all have to give something.”

These comments were a surprise - especially as Tebas had called loudly for Rubiales to resign when a players strike threatened to disrupt the end of last season.

But such shifting alliances are common amid the power struggles over the control of Spanish football’s purse-strings, with RFEF president Angel Maria Villar another major player.

Tebas also spoke about how La Liga had surpassed the Premier League in many ways. “Besides Greenland and Mongolia we’ve TV deals done with almost all the other countries,” the lawyer-by- trade said, while avoiding the issue of English clubs being able to easily outmuscle all but Spain’s big two in the transfer market.

Tebas also avoided mentioning that the much trumpeted new centralised TV rights arrangement has yet to be introduced amid more arguments between ‘stakeholders’. Or that most Spanish- based viewers missed Valencia’s 3-1 Champions League win over Monaco last Wednesday, due to a late summer shake-up of channels and providers.

At least there were games to watch this weekend, not like when the 2011/12 season was postponed a week.

However, the 85th Primera Division did not begin with a bang, with just two goals - both free kicks - in the five games played Friday and Saturday.

Messi upped the drama stakes by missing another penalty at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, before Luis Suarez’s goal gave a patched-up Barca a nervous 1-0 win.

New Madrid coach Rafa Benitez saw his team then draw 0-0 at Sporting Gijon, with the closest to a goal when Sporting centre-forward Tonny Sanabria’s header hit the crossbar and bounced away.

Nobody could be sure if the ball crossed the line, as La Liga has no goalline technology – due to a row over who would pay.

“Spanish football’s immune system must have a supernatural force,” wrote Marca columnist Miguel Angel Lara on Saturday, as he wondered how the players can keep performing amid the chaos.

The opening weekend’s lack of excitement suggests off-field issues do actually have an effect.

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