Real Madrid and Barcelona's privileged status set to remain... for now

European Ombudsman recommends that EC competition office reach decision as soon as possible on case of Spanish giants' status as member-owned clubs

The European Commission is still unable to give any date for a decision on the legality of Real Madrid and Barcelona's privileged status as membership-owned clubs, despite a four-year investigation that has so far exceeded all deadlines.

The Independent has revealed that the European Ombudsman, the independent adjudicator for European institutions, had recommended that the EC competition office reach a decision as soon as possible on the case of Madrid and Barcelona's status as member-owned clubs, which entitles them to benefits unavailable to their rivals.

The legislation, passed by the Spanish Government in 1990, potentially constitutes illegal state aid and means that, along with Osasuna and Athletic Bilbao, Spanish football's two biggest clubs enjoy a not-for-profit status in law. That gives them tax benefits and the right to run affiliate professional basketball teams, denied to all other clubs in the top two divisions who have been obliged by law to convert to plcs.

In spite of promptings from the European Ombudsman, based in Strasbourg, the competition office can still give no indication as to when it will reach a decision on the case, which could result in Madrid and Barcelona losing their right to be owned by members, or "socios", and their being reconstituted as plcs.

Yet the competition office has confirmed to The Independent that it is in the advanced stages of an investigation into five Dutch clubs over illegal state aid. PSV Eindhoven, NEC Nijmegen, Willem II, Den Bosch and MVV Maastricht all face serious allegations of receiving illegal state aid from their local municipal authorities, mainly on land deals.

In this instance even commissioner Joaquin Almunia has weighed in, saying that the competition office had "doubts" about whether the five clubs had kept to the rules on state aid over the years in question, 2010 and 2011. Almunia is yet to comment publicly about the case involving Madrid and Barcelona. His competition office received the initial complaint in that case in November 2009.

The office confirmed to The Independent that it had four further investigations running into potential illegal state aid for football clubs, including complaints about Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham. Another concerns a land deal between Real Madrid and Madrid City Council that dates back to 1996.

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