Tim Stannard reflects on a harsh but fair punishment for the poor eastern side who now sink to La Segunda...
And that’s why the dynamic, suspense-filled La Liga keeps on delivering and why the boring, oh-so-predictable land of the English Premier League is lagging far behind in the sexy stakes. As far back as a month ago, the world had no idea if the Spanish league season was ever going to end due to a big-wig playground scrap which was eventually broken up by a judge.
On Friday, nearly two weeks after the completion of La Primera, one Spanish team that was relegated was replaced by another, while a third is in the Champions League final having finished about 200 points above the aforementioned pair. Take that mother country of football!
The Spanish League confirmed what a judge had declared earlier in the week - that Elche had broken pre-existing rules by carrying a significant debt with the Spanish tax authorities but had no concrete, agreed plans to pay it off. And that is the key part of why they are being punished.
Debts are not illegal in the football sense, if a plan to pay them off with the Hacienda is agreed and kept, something that Atlético Madrid have managed.
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“At present, Elche CF has liquid, overdue, and payable debt owed to the State Tax Administration Agency (AEAT). This debt has not been paid, deferred, or secured, as shown by the State Administration Agency,” said the ruling that sees the club now banished to La Segunda with Eibar being given a reprieve.
The decision is both cruel to fans and players but also fair. The rules before the season were clear. Elche ran a competitive advantage over rival clubs in La Liga that abided by Spanish law by failing to make payments to the necessary authorities. Eibar should not be punished for paying what is due to the government - as with every other company and citizen in Spain - rather than holding the money back to spend on transfers and wages.
Actually, Elche didn’t even bother with that inconvenience, as the club faces a possible further demotion to the third tier of Spanish football unless it pays outstanding debts to players this summer.
Although this story may be a byline in news feeds, it is a huge event in Spanish football, with rules put in force to control the finances of clubs actually being enforced. While Elche fans will feel rightly aggrieved by events and probably call conspiracy, Eibar will be celebrating, and rightly so - it was a club that played by the rules on the pitch, if not particularly well, but also played by the rules with their finances.