x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The show goes on for Barca and Co

The rare strike has been called off but the threat is not over yet. The football-loving nation is only happy not to be bothered with the details

Barcelona's players, training for last night's Uefa Super Cup against Porto, will start their Spanish season against Villarreal on Monday.
Barcelona's players, training for last night's Uefa Super Cup against Porto, will start their Spanish season against Villarreal on Monday.

BARCELONA // Spanish football would rather forget the start of this season.

A players' strike forced the postponement of the first weekend of fixtures in the top two divisions, with big stars and lesser names standing shoulder to shoulder to demand payment of the €50 million (Dh265m) they are owed in unpaid wages.

Threats of strikes in Spanish football are not uncommon, though actual strikes are. The last was in 1984 and most onlookers thought that a resolution would be found ahead of attractive fixtures like Malaga v Barcelona last weekend.

It was not, and there seemed a genuine prospect that there would be no games this weekend, either.

With the next two weeks reserved for international matches, the Spanish league would not have kicked-off until September 10 at the earliest.

That is not ideal preparation for those clubs starting in the Champions League the following week and there was the added spectre of fixture congestion in an already packed football calendar. The players remained unbowed, and they were right.

This was not about reclaiming back pay for the big stars of Barcelona and Real Madrid, who earn in excess of €100,000 a week, but the professionals who receive as little as €800 per month, the minimum contract for a player in Spain.

These players cannot afford to not receive their wages for one week, let alone six months.

Under the agreement finally reached at 5am on Thursday morning after 13 hours of talks, they will be allowed to be released from their contracts if their wages are not paid.

The Spanish national team may be the best in the world and Barcelona the best club side, but Spanish football is beset by problems which are routinely met with a shrug of the shoulders.

Serious issues are seldom dealt with, from unfair distribution of television money, offering financial incentives to other teams, atrocious attendances below the top level and games scheduled just eight days before the fixture are due to take place.

The coaching side of the game may be in rude health, but the administration side is not. Once the strike was called by the players, it took six talks between the Players Union (AFE) and the Primera Liga (LPF) before Thursday's resolution.

Everyone is happy that there will be football this weekend.

Spain loves football as much as any nation and can look forward to Zaragoza v Real Madrid tomorrow, two promoted sides, Granada and Betis, meeting tonight and another Andalusian derby between big-spending Malaga and the region's established top dogs Sevilla tomorrow.

Barcelona will not start their campaign until Monday night with an appealing clash against Villarreal, following the Catalans' European Super Cup match against Porto in Monaco last night. The postponed games from last weekend will be played on January 22 and the fixtures from that weekend shifted to May 2.

With no football to discuss, the strike and actions of Jose Mourinho occupied much of the country's attention.

Mourinho's ego and arrogance ensured he was not popular with many in Spain when he took charge of Real in 2010, but he benefited from a begrudging respect for his abilities as a coach, even from Barca fans. His stock has plummeted following his actions during two games against Barcelona.

He was banished to the stands during the Champions League semi-final first leg in April, after which he accused Uefa and Barca of having a conspiracy against Real.

More recently, he pulled the ear of Barca's assistant coach Tito Vilanova during an epic but ill-tempered Spanish Super Cup second leg. It is not just the Spanish public who want to see less of Mourinho and more football.

The Special One needs to be coaching and doing what he does best, so that he can begin a path to redemption with the majority of Spaniards who think he is unhinged.

AROUND EUROPE

Italy

The start of the Serie A season this weekend was postponed yesterday after the Italian Players’ Union (AIC) called a strike after failing to reach an agreement with clubs over a new deal over players’ rights.

The Lega Serie A, representing Italy’s 20 top-flight clubs, refused to agree to a last-minute proposal from the AIC to sign a one-season deal to avert strike action, prompting the postponement of today’s and tomorrow’s fixtures.

Damiano Tommasi, the AIC president, yesterday had proposed signing a temporary contract, good through June of next year, along existing lines while negotiations continued, but clubs’ president Maurizio Beretta rejected the bid.

“Our assembly has been clear. We will sign an agreement only if it contains the two points under discussion – the solidarity contribution and that of training outside the first-team squad,” Beretta told the Italian news service Ansa.

The two disputed points are over the interpretation of the so-called article seven concerning players who are no longer wanted by their coaches, and who should pay a new austerity tax introduced by the government.

AIC wants those players to be allowed to train with the squad until they reach the end of their contracts while the clubs want autonomy for the coaches.

The clubs also want any new agreement to include a clause stipulating the players, rather than the clubs, must pay the government’s recently introduced solidarity tax on wages over €90,000 (Dh477,000) per year.

Without compromise following weeks of deadlock, there is now a distinct possibility more Serie A fixtures could be postponed.
“I have the distinct impression that 15 days will not be enough,” Tommasi said. “We may need months.”

The dispute has rumbled on since the end of the 2009/10 season, when a previous agreement expired.

Germany

Bayern Munich will have to put aside thoughts of the Champions League today when they travel to Kaiserslautern in the Bundesliga.

Bayern were put in the same group as Villarreal, Napoli and Manchester City in Thursday’s draw. “From the eight groups, we have definitely got the toughest,” said Bastian Schweinsteiger on his club’s website. “But that doesn’t matter: if we want to be among the best teams in Europe, then we have got to get through it, and I am certain that we will.”

Also, Jupp Heynckes, the Bayern coach, said Arjen Robben needs “complete tranquillity” to recover from the injuries that have plagued the Dutch winger recently.

Heynckes said yesterday that having endured injuries when he played, “if you don’t do corrective exercises now, it will be difficult to treat”.

Robben has been beset by back and groin problems since Bayern’s season began.

France

Rene Girard, the Montpellier coach, is keeping a level head after his side’s impressive start to the season as he prepares for tonight’s  “dangerous” trip to Lyon.

Montpellier sit atop the Ligue 1 standings for the first time in their history after winning their opening three matches, leaving them as they only side in the division still boasting a 100 per cent record.

Montpellier finished 14th last term and Girard knows the chances of Montpellier finishing at the top of the table are remote, with his thoughts on securing their top-flight status.

“We have nine points, which means there are that many fewer points needed to ensure that we stay in Ligue 1 this season,” Girard said on ligue1.com. “But we won’t get carried away; we’re not playing for the title.”

Holland

Erik Pieters has confirmed he may have made his last appearance for PSV Eindhoven as he closes in on a move to the English Premier League side Newcastle United.

Pieters, 23, was reportedly due in England yesterday to discuss a move to St James’ Park after Newcastle agreed a fee with PSV following weeks of negotiations.

And Pieters conceded Thursday’s 5-0 defeat of SV Ried in the Europa League may have been his PSV swansong.

He told the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper: “If a club from the Premier League says they want you, and that is the case, then you know the financial means they have. Whether I play for PSV at Excelsior or am already at Newcastle I do not know.

“I have not seen much of Newcastle myself but my friend [and fellow Dutchman] Tim Krul keeps me informed.”

Pieters joined PSV from Utrecht in 2008 and has made 78 league appearances.

 

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