Spanish successes mask debt crisis



Yesterday, Spain was celebrating having a record five teams in the Champions and Europa League quarter-final draws. But only 24 hours earlier, Spanish football was sent reeling from Government figures that confirmed its clubs owe €752m (£625m) in unpaid tax.

Beneath the shiny veneer of Barcelona and Real Madrid's domination of the Champions League and three of the eight Europa League quarter-finalists also coming from Spain, La Liga is buckling under the weight of a debt that in the current economic climate can no longer be sustained.

The worst offenders are Atletico Madrid, one of those three Spanish teams still with a chance of winning the Europa League but owing €155m (£129m) to Spain's Inland Revenue – three times the amount that HMRC were pursuing Rangers for prior to the Scottish club entering administration.

Atletico Madrid's debt had stood at €215m last summer before they sold Sergio Aguero to Manchester City for €50m and were obliged to hand the money straight over to the tax man.

The fact that €40m was then spent on the Columbian striker Falcao owed more to Spain allowing third-party player-ownership than any improvement in the club's dire situation.

Real Betis, Real Zaragoza, Racing Santander, Levante and Mallorca have all been in administration this season and owe the tax man €35m, €33m, €10m, €23m and €17m respectively. Mallorca now have a deal in place that allows them to pay their debt back over 10 years.

Levante have agreed to pay theirs over a five-year period and other clubs will be forced to follow suit with the Secretary of State for Sport, Miguel Cardenal, saying this week: "The debt will be cleared. Football generates €1.8bn a year so it's hard for people to understand when it says it cannot pay."

Osasuna and Levante currently occupy Europa League places in La Liga but both run the risk of sharing the fate that befell Mallorca in 2010 when they were denied the chance to take part because of a €60m debt. Osasuna have earned a reputation as a well-run club but owe €28m according to this week's figures. Only six teams in the top flight have no tax debt, among them Manchester United's conquerors Athletic Bilbao

The Spanish players union – which began the season chasing clubs for a debt of €50m in outstanding wages, and went on strike for the first week of the season for the cause – has led the fight to prevent clubs protecting themselves by going into administration, but currently there is still no points penalty for teams that do so.

Real Madrid were quick to point out this week that they have no outstanding debt to the Inland Revenue but they did own up to a net debt of €170m. Barcelona owe the tax authorities €48m as part of an overall net debt of €364m.

With revenues of €479m and €451m respectively Real Madrid and Barcelona, who will also continue to share 50 per cent of the €618m annual television money until 2014, are not in danger. But as this week's figures showed the league around them, for all its on-the-field success, most definitely is.

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