Spanish second division club Elche are having the mother of all bad summers. This isn’t the “hey what a shame the weather was so bad we didn’t have that many barbecues” but, “oh by the way, a hell-mouth has just opened up on the front driveway and Donald Trump has installed a 50-foot video wall dedicated to broadcasting his thoughts, 24 hours a day, in the front garden,” kind of few months.
Last season ended with Elche having apparently survived relegation thanks to a late spurt of results to finish in 13th place. That was set to bring in much-needed funds and stability for the new campaign, seeing as the club had outstanding debts to both the Spanish tax department and a bustle of former and current players. It was the former that dealt the biggest blow, with the team breaking a Spanish League (LFP) ruling that said that any debts to authorities or players could be dealt with severely.
As way of clarification, debts are allowed as a significant number of clubs carry them - see Atletico Madrid for example - but an agreed plan of repayment must have been formalised. That wasn’t the case with Elche, an institution which owed a whopping €3.6 million to the Hacienda (tax man) and ultimately forced the LFP to punish them with an administrative relegation to the second division. Elche’s leaders appealed to a number of legal institutions to no avail, meaning that Eibar were spared the guillotine and allowed back into La Liga to continue being small and plucky.
"Have a nice day" ... er, awkward
If all that wasn’t unpleasant enough, Elche are on the brink of suffering a second relegation unless a debt of €4m owed to former and current players is paid by the end of this week. This would see the side dropping into the Segunda ‘B’ division, an economic mineshaft that can bankrupt teams. The club president from April, Juan Anguix, guaranteed at the end of last week that the debt would be cleared and Elche wouldn't go down.
Unfortunately, few had confidence with that claim and Anguix stepped down over the weekend under pressure from the local mayor and a consortium of businessmen who are now looking at what spare change they all have to pay off some players. “The situation is extraordinarily difficult,” explained mayor Carlos Gonzalez.
Of course, the ones who will suffer the most are the supporters, who are seeing their club thrown into crisis due to the mismanagement of its bosses. But unfortunately for them, the LFP is correct in its stance. For far too long, some clubs have been gaining a competitive advantage over rivals by failing to pay what was owed. Why should a team be penalised in sporting terms for paying a €1m bill owed to the tax department, when an opponent blows it on a striker instead and gives the middle finger to The Man?
Elche now have a desperate race against time to find an enormous amount of money by Friday. A failure to do so could be devastating, as the club is punished in the present for the misdeeds of the past.