MADRID - The La Liga season will start this weekend after the Spanish football league (LFP) and the players' union (AFE) sealed a deal over unpaid wages on Thursday that ended the first strike action in almost three decades.
Last week's first round of matches in the top two divisions was postponed as the two sides haggled over issues including the value of a fund to cover unpaid player salaries at clubs who are struggling financially or have gone into administration.
Around 12 hours of talks stretched well into the early hours of Thursday and a further session that began around 10:30am local time finally ended when an agreement was reached around 2pm.
"The strike has been called off by the players' union," a relieved-looking league president Jose Luis Astiazaran told a news conference.
"It was an effort from both sides, both sides gave ground and I am very pleased that at last the ball will be in play."
AFE president Luis Rubiales said around 50 million euros the union says is owed to more than 200 players would be guaranteed.
"The current economic situation is not easy and we must be grateful to the LFP for their efforts," he added.
The first round of matches, including champions Barcelona at Malaga and Real Madrid at home to Athletic Bilbao, will now be played on January 21/22 and the games scheduled for that weekend moved to Wednesday May 2.
Analysts said the strike, which had the support of top players including the captains of Barcelona and Real Madrid, was damaging Spain's status as world champions, shaking confidence in its institutions and alienating fans.
It also served to highlight the dire financial state of many clubs who overspend on player transfers and wages in a desperate bid to remain competitive.
A recent study published by a University of Barcelona accounting professor showed the 20 clubs in the top flight made a combined net loss of some 100 million euros in the year to the end of June 2010.
Total debt stood at 3.43 billion euros, more than double revenue of 1.61 billion.
The accord between the LFP, which representes the 42 clubs in the top two divisions, and the union provoked relief among players and coaches.
"It is great news that agreement has been reached," Barca coach Pep Guardiola told reporters ahead of Friday's European Super Cup against Europa League winners Porto in Monaco.
Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas, set to make his league debut for Barca against Villarreal on Monday following his move from Arsenal, added: "It is good if we can get back to normal."
Italy looked almost certain to face their own players' strike after last-minute talks on Thursday, 48 hours before the scheduled start of the Serie A season, failed to yield an agreement with the clubs over player rights.comments