Real Madrid and the Soccer Malady


Europe is awash in both capital, and its evil twin brother, debt, and the football (soccer) club has become the vital expression of this relationship. What price the European Football League? The treasuries of European clubs have become the repositories of world capital, be it Russian (Chelsea); Qatari (Paris Saint-Germain) or UAE (Manchester City). In the Spanish case, there are domestic sources of royal and extravagant patronage and no one comes close to Real Madrid, the royal jewel in the Spanish crown.

This monumental injection of capital has seen footballers become the modern gladiators in a market that has made purchasing power the only standard, the sole measurement. Everything else – the commentary, the aesthetics, the skill – is subordinate to the purse.

The European Championship League final has seen as much a battle of financial accounts as it has with deft players of skill and stamina. It is the richest competition of clubs in the world, a titanic confrontation that pits contestants who are often striving in their domestic competitions as well. This year, it was Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, a first time Championship derby which ended, only in the last portion of the match, in Real’s favour. It was ‘La Décima’ – their tenth victory of the tournament, one they have often regarded as their own, an ancestral entitlement.

It did look like Atlético had the measure of their giant neighbours for much of the match, playing solidly while containing their more favoured counterparts. Real’s star striker, Cristiano Ronaldo, was held in check for a good portion of the contest, his star dimmed. His team mate, Gareth Bale, seemed to be somewhere else, as he has been at stages this season, including the El Clasico. But stamina proved telling, and the breach in extra time led to a flood, yielding a deceptively flattering 4-1 in favour of Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

The story behind the win is something else, somewhat less glamour and glitz and more cold sobriety and hard-bitten deception. The campaign to win their tenth title, one they have been waiting for since 2002, cost Real the equivalent of a billion pounds. In eleven seasons, the furthest the club got in the Champions League was the semi-finals. The club sports a debt of 590 million euros, something it wears more like a floral garland than a millstone. It demands, and often gets, special dispensations.

Such instances of erratic monetary behaviour are not exceptional, though Real does it better than most. This enables them to play the money game of the football transfer market, which has led them to breaking the world transfer record three times in 10 years. That particular circus of extravagant expenditure has become much like the contemporary art market – a matter of figures over substance; the auction market before the standard.

It is actually impossible to measure the value of something that is, as Oscar Wilde would have designated, useless. That may be part of the problem. Transfer fees are distorted, and when they are revealed, there are embarrassed confessions. This has been the case with the signing by Barcelona of the Brazilian star Neymar. Initially, the figure was £48 million. Then, it was revealed that the actual cost was a heftier £73 million (International Business Times, Mar 25). Corporations need their chips to perform, and they don’t want to be seen as reaping a poor dividend. Bale cost £91 million in the transfer deal between Real and Tottenham, a fee so staggering it would make any subsequent performance on his part poor.

Beyond such extravagant outlays come the dispensations offered such clubs as Real and their staunch rival FC Barcelona. Given the state of the Spanish economy, every bit of tax revenue would, surely, be chased with terrier-like enthusiasm. Not so the Spanish government, which revealed last year that the amount of unpaid tax owed by professional football clubs in the country’s top two divisions was a jaw-dropping 664,876,441 euros (The Independent, Aug 6, 2013).1

The figure sits uncomfortably with the European Union bailout package worth somewhere in the order of 100 billion euros. Unemployment hovers at a sore 26 per cent, with youth levels almost double that level. Priorities do determine choices, and Spanish football tends to be a priority over many others. The European Commission last December took note of this when it initiated an investigation of seven Spanish clubs, including Barca, Real, Osasuna and Atlético, for contravening EU rules prohibiting favourable tax treatment for them. Much of this is put down to the fact that such clubs are still owned by the socios – their own membership.

Various clubs were also investigated for receiving illegal state aid2 – Real over training facilities at Valdebebas; and Bilbao over money received for the construction of a new stadium. Others have also received cash assistance from regional governments, including Valencia. Given these links, it should surprise no one that the Spanish government has taken to battling the European Commission over such charges of illegality. Football, explained Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo, is “part of the Spanish brand” (Reuters, Dec 16, 2013). It’s football, or nothing.

What price the league, then? All in all, too much, itself an object, an aim, and one increasingly pursued like an addiction fed with impunity. Addictions, by their nature, resist reflection. In the case of the football giants, they get away with it, because they can. They are prima donnas of the pocket, demanding cheques and curtseys rather than curses and sanctions. But pots of gold do run out – eventually.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving