Lee Wellings: La Liga president faces up to match fixing

The autumn international break is a strange period isn’t it. Rightly or wrongly fans are pining for club action while the diet of World Cup qualifying ‘build-up’ is stretched to breaking point.

In England for example the comments of Jack Wilshere – plenty of potential though hardly a glittering star of the world game – on the subject of nationalism.

Everyone conveniently ignored the reality that this young footballer didn’t publish a manifesto, he was simply answering a question on Adnan Januzaj, the Manchester United starlet (18, great debut) and his potential availability for England.

But that’s the international break for you. Journalists can take a mole hill and scoop furiously towards building a mountain.

And within the international window for two days at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge ground, came the Leaders in Football event’.

The big hitters and headline makers take the stage, mingle and ‘network’ – what an ugly word that is – stories and headlines created away from the pitch.

While FIFA ExCo member, the US Federation president Sunil Gulati, agrees to speak to us in one corner (see Andrew Warshaw’s piece on this website), then Carlo Ancelotti will take a stage and an English media pack will gather around FA Chairman Greg Dyke. At times it’s like two or three football matches being played simultaneously.

It’s near impossible to cover all bases. So imagine the relief at an excellent translator being available – my Spanish is not what it should be – for me to quietly approach and interview the President of La Liga, Javier Tebas.

How often do we hear from the big figures in Spanish football, one of the world’s most influential leagues and certainly football’s highest achievers?

But there are tough questions to be asked around the Spanish game at the moment.

And none more troubling than the reason Senor Tebas was attending the event, the announcement of a collaboration with the ICSS (International Centre for Sports Security) and teaming up with the estimable Chris Eaton, former Head of Security at FIFA.

Senor Tebas, alarmingly, says games in the top two divisions in Spain will be fixed this season.

“Eight or nine games in the top two divisions will be fixed. It’s not just a problem with the Spanish Leagues, it’s a problem for other leagues and other sports, but it needs to be addressed and we need to find solutions.”

People will want to know if this is affecting the biggest clubs, I ask him.

“Nothing has affected the big clubs. It’s clear that what’s happening in lower leagues can happen in big leagues as well. We are completely aware of this corruption issue. It’s a financial question its about pricing and what you can earn from the situation.”

It’s a good move from Mr Tebas to take the issue on with someone of Mr Eaton’s calibre alongside him.

But I’ve raised other questions about La Liga in blogs and columns before and this is my opportunity to tackle him on Real Madrid’s magical finances. Even the translator seems to wince at the forced repetition of the question;

Where where where do Real Madrid get their money? To buy Galaticos. Because logic would say Paris St Germain and Manchester City should be the biggest spenders not Real Madrid.

“Real Madrid and Barcelona are the two biggest clubs in the world they have got the biggest fanbase in the world, everything they spend is coming from gate receipts, ticketing, marketing, commercial rights. We’ve seen them sell Ozil, Higuan and others. What they’ve sold and the proceeds is more money than they paid for Bale.”

So this on the face it looks like Senor Tebas 5 Wellings 0. But I’m still not convinced. Nor are the Germans, nor is Brussels. If TV and marketing deals add up to profits I’ve been seriously misinformed by the moneymen. Because the bottom line is that football clubs don’t REALLY make profits, even the world’s biggest.

One of my theories on La Liga is being contradicted though. That the gap between the top two and the rest is dangerously big. Atletico Madrid have been inspired and wonderful this season – having won their first eight La Liga games.

“Atletico’s success shows the wonderful thing about football is not all about money buying the best team it’s a message you can get players on the pitch and they can win with their heart not just the money.’

Mr Tebas is secretly not quite as delighted with Atletico’s incredible progress as he might be – he confessed his team are indeed Real Madrid.

My confession is my support for Real Betis, producing a big smile, I’m not sure he was expecting that from an Englishman. It’s a long story I tell him, but we chuckle – through the translator (for once three ISN’T a crowd) about their habit of losing games in which they’ve been the best team.

Finally I’m intrigued by whether there is genuine competition between La Liga and the phenomenom of the English Premier League.

‘We are always in competition when selling the rights to foreign buyers but when I went to ICSS with Chris Eaton in Doha and saw all training grounds and infastructure and players aspiring to success from both leagues.

“The competition is healthy”.

Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at ten.a1702216148reeza1702216148jla@s1702216148gnill1702216148ew.ee1702216148l1702216148. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport