Inside La Liga: Cloud gathers over Villar’s reign in Spain

At an extraordinary session in Zurich last Tuesday, the Fifa Executive Committee appointed Spanish FA president Angel Maria Villar Llona as acting chairman of the Organising Committee for the Fifa World Cup 2018.

Inside La Liga: Cloud gathers over Villar’s reign in Spain

Villar moved into the position after many other senior Fifa figures, including president Sepp Blatter, were suspended from duties.

That followed from the Spanish FA (RFEF) president being appointed as acting Uefa chief earlier this month, when that organisation’s president Michel Platini was also forced to step aside pending investigation of his past conduct.

Many extraordinary things have been taking place in both Fifa and Uefa through recent weeks, months and years, but the former Athletic Bilbao midfielder’s slow but steady ascension to be among the most powerful people in world football should really count among them.

Villar has long been an ally of both Blatter and Platini, and has tread a careful line through recent months to avoid been seen as too closely linked to either man.

Through all the turmoil, he has managed, incredibly, not to comment in public or speak to the media at all — even while chairing a Uefa crisis summit, and attending Spain’s recent Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Villar came into the spotlight however on Wednesday, when Fifa’s ethics committee confirmed he was being investigated — apparently for refusing to cooperate properly with the internal inquiry run by US attorney Michael Garcia into how Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

Villar’s skill at navigating the smoky back-rooms of football administration has long been acknowledged in Spain, where he founded Spain’s players’ union (AFE) in 1978 before becoming RFEF chief in 1988.

His seven terms as president have brought regular allegations of a lack of transparency within the Spanish FA’s finances and decision-making processes. A number of court cases have also been brought, but no charges ever made to stick.

More recently, Spain’s current secretary of state for sport Miguel Cardenal has repeatedly clashed with Villar over public funding for the federation, and other issues, including ending violent ultras’ influence on the game and the distribution of TV revenues. La Liga’s president Javier Tebas is also a harsh critic — amid continuing battles over Spanish football’s purse-strings.

Within the RFEF, internal dissent was silenced by controlling funding to each of Spain’s regional federations. The 65-year-old was again re-elected in 2012, with 161 of 167 votes cast in his favour.

In recent years, Villar’s son Gorka has risen to become a major figure within the South American federation CONMEBOL — an organisation which has also had more than its fair share of controversy in recent years. Just last month, a Uruguayan court investigation into extortion allegations made against Villar Jnr was confirmed. Despite this, the 39-year-old-lawyer remains a member of Fifa’s ‘Reform Panel’.

Spain’s paper of record El Pais on Thursday described how Villar’s control of Spanish football was maintained.

“Angel Maria Villar has become the prototype of the sporting administrator clinging to his position,” its editorial said.

“His awful management has generated a framework of clientelist interests which impede any advance, sporting or economic, in Spanish football. Villar, federation president for 27 years, has been an obstacle for football, at least during the last 10. His presidency has been sustained thanks to a thick web of interests and crossed favours, he is hostile to the sporting authorities, and opposed to any rationalisation of club revenues.”

Doesn’t quite sound like the new broom needed atop European or world football.

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