On June 7, 2018, King Felipe VI went to the Ciudad del Fútbol of Las Rozas. The Spanish National Team was concentrated there. A few days later, the team would travel to Russia to play the World Cup. Before saying goodbye to the players and wishing them luck, as both the Government and the Royal House always do, the king greeted the directors of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).
The Villar clan maintains control of the Football Federation in the face of the threat of judicial intervention
Among the leaders whom the Head of State shook hands were half a dozen of them investigated by the National High Court. Men, from the former board of President Ángel Villar, accused of corruption in the management of the Federation for what is known as the ‘Soule case’. The president of the Federation, Luis Rubiales, was then, in turn, accused of an alleged assault on a woman, a cause of which he was finally acquitted on June 16.
An exalted position of the Ministry of Culture and Sports alludes to that episode that rarely will happen in an area other than football. “The scene, if you think about it, is unusual. As if they had asked him to greet the Caja Madrid board of directors,” recalls this former president. “That is the model of football,” he concludes.
Two days earlier, on June 5, it had been the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, who had also approached Las Rozas to fire the National Team. Sánchez had then been in La Moncloa for a few days after having won the motion of censure against Mariano Rajoy. When he arrived, the players, who had finished training, refused to pose with him. The captain, Sergio Ramos, announced it: first they would shower and dress; then they would pose. Sánchez had to wait.
“In another sport that would never have happened. That is also the model of football,” continues the same source. “For governments, sport is a folkloric thing that gives you a lot in terms of political image, because you take pictures with athletes. That’s why they don’t really want to get their hands on it. What does it matter if they steal or stop stealing. No emphasis is placed on it. in controlling it, “he adds.
The image of politicians in football today, however, seems part of the past. At least certain relationships between football and politics. “There was a time when clubs, thanks to politicians, obtained aid or public or semi-public money to avoid bankruptcy,” recalls Jesús Alfaro, a law professor at the Autonomous University and an expert in the football sector. To rescue them, stadiums were bought, others were ceded for their use, or money was built or given to them through financing agencies or savings banks, “which granted loans that were not paid and left the hole in the boxes.”
Alfaro recalls that close relationship between town planning councilors, builders and club presidents that so much evokes that Spain of rampant corruption. “If you look at it, practically every team has had a condemned president,” he warns. The main Spanish football clubs, from Real Madrid, with Lorenzo Sanz; to Barcelona, with Josep Luis Núñez; or from Atlético, with Jesús Gil; Sevilla, with José María del Nido, have had convicted presidents. And many more clubs are added to the list: Betis, Racing, Valencia, Cádiz, Rayo or Alavés. “Now politicians are more sensible and do not get so close to football clubs. The relationship has been diluted,” says Alfaro.
Javier Tebas, president of the League, analyzes it in reverse. For him, it would not be politicians who are less close to football, but football to politicians. “Since economic control was put into the League, football is no longer a haven for builders looking for land requalifications. Before, in many places, the city council was an essential part of the club and for the club. It is not anymore. Soccer is self-sufficient and that has caused a greater detachment from the institutions, ”he explains. It was, as he defines it, a matter of “asking for favors” so the clubs turned to politicians. That time, he says, is over “for the good of football” and now there are greater and better relationships and greater dialogue. “A few years ago that a politician received the League or some clubs it was not easy. That photo was even frowned upon due to the problems with the Club’s Treasury. Today we meet any government. With the current one, for example, relations have always been good, both with the PSOE and Podemos ministers ”, he adds.
“Football and politics have always maintained a close relationship. Even today, because both have to do with power and control of the masses. It is a relationship of permanent symbiosis, not free of tensions and ups and downs, yes,” he analyzes it. Óscar Santamaría, director of Public Communication Advisors. For this expert in political communication, in the past there were times when that relationship was more, as he describes it, “fluid and evident, almost natural.”
Above all, when some businessmen, “usually modeled on self-made men”, turned to football clubs as a political springboard or when some politicians “unashamedly identified their ideological flags with the colors of a team.” For him, the relationship is still alive today, “although less visible.”
“I got involved a lot with the Bernabéu box because it seemed like Franco’s hunts. That was the ‘National Shotgun’ … For years we have lived an economy of contacts rather than ideas and that represented that box”, the journalist Alfredo Relaño. “Especially with Real Madrid and Barça galacticos you always saw politicians in their boxes. There were elbows to be there,” he adds.
The four almost consecutive European Cups of the white team between 2013 and 2018 were the high point. During those years the issue even reached the Council of Ministers of Rajoy. “It was asked that so many ministers not go to the box because it was already a mess,” reveals a politician from that government. “It is true that now that is not so evident …”, concedes Relaño. “The image of Florentino Pérez is not that good either, there was a moment of brilliance of success that has happened and, in addition, many people who went to that box later went to jail.”