Federation in chaos after Villar’s arrest
Amonth before the season was due to start, and two days before the fixtures were announced, police arrived at the headquarters of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and arrested the president Angel Maria Villar. The man who had led the federation for 29 years, and had just won elections for four more, was taken to a police station nearby in Las Rozas, north-west of Madrid and was there for 12 hours, before being driven to prison at Soto del Real and incarcerated without bail.
Villar, his vice-president Juan Padron, Ramon Hernandez and Villar’s son Gorka are among those who stand accused of corruption, forgery, embezzlement and misappropriation of funds. Investigations focus on the accusation that Villar and those close to him benefitted personally from his position of power at the RFEF – his son, Gorka, especially, as he was involved in the organisation of matches in Korea and Latin America, winning lucrative contracts to help stage, market and broadcast them.
But there was more. A soccer school that was due to be built in Haiti after the hurricane of 2010 never materialised, despite € 1.8million being entrusted to the federation. And wiretaps revealed the extent of the pressure brought to bear upon regional presidents to support Villar in the elections, offering a portrait of how he built and hung onto power. The 44-page document put together by the state prosecuting judge cites 59 people. And if it lacks definitive, decisive proof – a smoking gun – it still makes a strong case. It also makes for startling reading.
More details will likely be revealed as the case progresses as already, people are coming out. Villar’s era is, in all probability, over – although the case will be long and drawn out, and the political fight to occupy the vacuum he leaves behind will be messy and bitter.
The Consejo Superior de Deportes, the state body that regulates sport, will push to have Villar barred from the federation. The president of the league, Javier Tebas, who has long been at war with Villar, declared: “Villar is history, but we have to root out ‘ villarismo’. ” Tebas had supported Jorge Perez in the last elections, seeking a foothold at the federation too. Perez had been Villar’s right-hand man for years.
In the immediate aftermath of the arrest, there were other pressing matters to attend to, something that reflected an uncomfortable truth: in the end, what most people care about is that the game goes on.
On the day that Villar was arrested, the RFEF announced that the assembly at which the fixtures would be confirmed could not go ahead. Football fans had waited a long time for this and now, just when the wait was almost over, it looked set to go on.
It was more than just the fixtures: it was the actual dates. With four weeks to go until the season was due to start, no one had yet definitively confirmed that would actually be the weekend the season would start. Or if and when there would be a Christmas break. Or when it would all end. Every summer something seems to happen; this time there was no strike, but there was a president in the slammer.
Many rolled their eyes. Others saw the federation’s announcement as a means of pressure: release our president, or there’s no football. The RFEF then said, simply, that they couldn’t very well do the draw without their computers – and the civil guard had taken them all away.
Another announcement followed: it would only be a day more, after all, and the fixtures would happen. So, the media was back at Las Rozas, even if the president wasn’t. “The league doesn’t
stop,” ran one front page, which was a relief. “The league has dates; what it doesn’t have is anyone in charge,” read another. It was hard to avoid wedging your tongue in your cheek and responding: “Good”.
The show will go on, beginning with Girona’s first-ever game in the top flight, which will be against Atletico Madrid. The game was due to be in Madrid, but with work not yet finished on the new stadium, Girona will start at home.
The clasico will be on the final weekend before Christmas and then three weekends before the season closes. It will end with Madrid in Villarreal and Barcelona against Real Sociedad.
Actually, “begin” may not be the word. It is one thing to know which weekend the games are on, but kick-off times and dates are still unconfirmed, as is the way in Spain. But the show goes on, at least, and it will certainly be exciting for Girona.
“We have finally removed the thorn from our side,” defender Jonas Ramalho said of Girona, which was the only Catalan province never to have a top-tier team, and their coach admits that it is traditionally a city of Barcelona fans – Barca go there in week six. Meanwhile, the club will announce a more formal relationship with Manchester City, their backers over the last couple of years. They are joined by Levante and Getafe, both of whom came straight back up.
It will be an exciting season for others too: a league with three new teams, eight new coaches, and plenty of new faces, plus a now-familiar cast that still includes the very best players on the planet. The lists of players in and out, in tiny type face and growing daily, number in the hundreds – and it’s still early.
Much has happened already. The summer started with the news that Cristiano Ronaldo wanted to leave; weeks later, so did Neymar, and his world-record switch to PSG was set to spark a chain of further huge deals..
Others have departed and for different reasons: James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata left the Bernabeu, and it says something about Madrid’s strength in depth that they can afford to let them go – they were, after all, their top assist provider and second-top scorer last season, yet neither was a starter.
They were not the only ones to go, and there is a sad recurring theme that players right throughout the league end up swapping Spain for England.
Roque Mesa, for example, has joined Swansea City and will be missed at Las Palmas and all over the country. Spain remains a place to find quality and sometimes even at reasonable prices in a market gone mad.
It’s not all departures, though. Dani Ceballos, star of the European Under21 Championship, found Madrid and Barcelona trying to woo him, and went for the former. Adnan Januzaj joined Real Sociedad. Michel will be managing his son at Malaga, and Lucas Perez may be returning home to Coruna. Nolito is back in Spain, at Sevilla, where Ever Banega is back too.
Diego Costa will be returning soon – at least Atletico think he will. There, he
will join forces with Antoine Griezmann, who said it would have been a “dirty” move to have left.
Speaking of which: Sevilla announced the renewal of Vitolo’s contract, amid rumours that he was off to join Atletico. The following morning, after a night of frantic phone calls, he had paid his buy-out clause and joined Las Palmas for six months, ready to arrive at Atletico when their transfer ban is lifted in the winter. Three teams in 24 hours, two teams next season, and a former club threatening legal action. Not that Vitolo should fear the civil guard turning up at his house like they did at the RFEF.
All that and it’s barely got started yet. As Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez warned: “I like the final days of August best.”
And there is still a long way to go until then. Better still, there’s a whole season beyond that.
stopped...neymar is crowded out in Barcelona’s pre-season friendly against Real Madrid
gone...Real’s alvaro Morata (left) and James Rodriguez
History...Girona are promoted to La Liga for the first time
Not ready...Atletico’s new stadium
Arrested...Angel Maria Villar arrives at the Spanish federation’s HQ