Inflated

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 12th 2013)

Predators

Is there any industry other than football where contracts are so worthless? A crazy off-season is set to get worse. Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani had a poor Confederations’ Cup, but his transfer set the tone. Courted by Real Madrid and seeming to be headed to the Spanish capital Cavani let others do his talking for him. It was no secret that he would leave Napoli, but Cavani offers an important lesson for his compatriot Luís Suárez.

Napoli’s most sought after player had a huge price tag placed on him, but had suitors aplenty. Eventually, backed by Qatari money PSG won the race for his signature. A cool £55m in the coffers saw the Uruguayan striker leave his beloved Naples for Paris. But Cavani’s departure had unforeseen consequences.

Forked Tongues

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Rafa Benítez Maudes took over at Napoli and now had money to spend, so Arsenal saw their first major target of the season Gonazalo Higuaín slip through their fingers, even though a price had been agreed along with personal terms. New Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti talked Higuaín up, claiming that he wanted the Argentine striker to stay, but money talked.

According to some reports Arséne Wenger delayed closing the deal at a bargain price in order to pursue a cheeky bid for Suárez, but Liverpool did not want to sell their talisman. Meanwhile, Cavani’s departure and that of another South American striker, Colombia’s premier forward Radamel Falcao to Monaco for €60m inflated the market value. Real Madrid’s President Florentino Pérez Rodríguez decided that Argentina’s centre forward was worth a few million more. It worked. £23m turned to almost £32m as Napoli and not Arsenal got their man.

Falcao’s move is interesting. The former Atlético de Madrid striker moved to France two months ago, yet efforts to unsettle him and Monaco are already in overdrive. First he was forced to prove that he was not in fact two years older than he claimed and now the tax situation in France has put other clubs on notice that he may be open to another move. Falcao has rubbished the claims as has his manager Claudio Ranieri, but these transfers have inflated prices.

Priceless

Both Cavani and Falcao got their moves without souring relations with their previous employers. Higuaín probably had to go as he had made it clear that he wanted to leave. Despite that the Argentine did nothing to force an exit and remained popular with his former club’s fans. The relationship was not the love-affair it had once been, but the process was was positively pleasant compared to the shenanigans at Anfield.

Liverpool’s owner John Henry made it clear that Suárez was not for sale. There’s no doubting the Uruguayan’s talent on the pitch, but a litany of other offences seem to be ignored. His agent Pere Guardiola, brother of Barçelona legend and current Bayern München coach, Pep, appears to have made a complete hash of Suárez’ exit plan.

A clause that the Uruguayan thought was a release clause, turned out not to be worth the paper it was written on. Liverpool were obliged to inform the player of any bid from a club in the Champion’s League over £40m. Arsenal cheekily bid a pound more than that to trigger the clause. Suárez believed that he had to be sold for that price. Liverpool stood firm and told him he was wrong. The Professional Footballers’ Association was called in, but could not fault Liverpool’s interpretation.

Buy-out Clauses

Suárez was banished by manager Brendon Rodgers. Ordered to train on his own as Rodgers demanded an apology to his players and the club, Suárez had few options. Rediscovering his love of Liverpool’s fans who had stood by him through thick and thin, Suárez announced that he would stay. He should perhaps have spoken to former Valencia striker Roberto Soldado before launching his ill-judged escape attempt.

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Valencia had announced that every player was available for sale apart from Soldado. Los Ches’ star-strriker, who was born in the historic city – a former capital of Spain in its glory days – stayed silent, but he wanted a move. Their prize asset and captain hankered after a move.

He had carried the last La Liga winners to break the duopoly on his shoulders for too long, but not even his prolific scoring could give Valencia Champion’s League football. Los Ches missed out by a point and it resulted in an exodus that included its prize asset.

Triggering a Buy-out Clause

Tottenham Hotspur were interested in signing Soldado. Valencia said that they did not want to sell, but that he could go only if his buy-out clause was met in full. Spurs triggered the buy-out clause and Soldado left for North-London, launching a parting shot at his former employers as he left. He no longer trusted them and did not believe in the project any more. There was nothing Valencia could do as Soldado – Spurs’ record signing – settled in quickly, or so it seemed.

Meanwhile, Suárez is left to rue his own clause that proved not to be worth the paper it was written on and claim that he decided to stay because of the love shown to him by Liverpool fans. “I love playing football in England,” he told us exclusively at the Confederations’ Cup. “I can remember all the times in Liverpool. I am very happy there. I always say thanks for the fans from Liverpool because they are in my heart.”

 

 

The New Reality

Tino Costa

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (April 30th 2014)

The Rules of the Game

Financial Fair Play (FFP) kicked in this season. Clubs had been given time to adjust to the new regime, but mega-rich clubs Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) still fell foul of the rules. Rather than face serious consequences for these transgressions a derisory fine that makes no difference to their owners was imposed. Meanwhile, smaller clubs were driven to rack and ruin – bankruptcy even.

Yet even bigger clubs used to competing at the top table of European have faced serious difficulties. Barçelona and Real Madrid are among the big spenders, but both faced ruin previously. Like banks later, they were baled out. Both sold their training grounds to the local or national governments controversially long before UEFA imposed FFP. But how fair is FFP? Manchester City, Málaga and PSG got their spending in before the regulations bit, although Málagaʼs owner abandoned the project.

Manchester City and PSG realised that if they were ever to join the big guns, it had to be done before the regulations bit. But is FFP about fiscal responsibility, or preserving the status quo or perhaps even both. We investigate further, taking València as an example. There is no doubt that like other clubs los Ches spent heavily and in some cases irresponsibly, but their situation is different.

Responsibility

Valènciaʼs woes were not all self-inflicted. There were bad investments on players – all clubs do that. There were changes in direction as coaches wanted different players and changed the style of play. Some became surplus to requirements. The investment in them were lost. But the biggest drain was the attempt to build a new stadium.

Club President Juan Bautista Soler sold his shares to Vicente Soriano in 2008, but the financial environment had changed. Soler has not received all the money due to him and chose drastic methods to try to get his money (we will report on that soon). Soriano realised that he could not deliver as the bank that had loaned the club resources wanted its money back as the economic crisis hit.

Pressure to sell their best players grew. Attempts to sell the club came and went. The local government got involved, but did not follow the path that baled Real Madrid and Barçelona out many years previously. Forced to sell their best players, los Ches had little option but to rely on youth and bargains. It resulted in the duopoly being unchallenged until the re-emergence of Atlético de Madrid.

Haemorrhaging Talent

Meanwhile, València had to sell to survive. In five years David Villa, Juan Mata, David Silva, Joaquín Sánchez, Raúl Albiol, Jordi Alba, Roberto Soldado and Tino Costa, among others had all been sold, but vast amounts had to service the debt. “We’re fighting and trying to end the agreement with the bank, but we think that more or less in two years we will finish the new stadium,” the clubʼs Director of Communications Damia Vidagany told us exclusively.

Mestalla Band

But Nuevo Mestalla is no nearer completion and talk of new investors has come and gone along with talent. “It is difficult to understand for the fans, because the club as I said, we are thinking our main work or main job is to be a very honest club with the economy,” Vidagany said. “If we have to sell players to pay the players to pay of the other class, we’re going to sell the players because we believe in the financial fair play. Then we are creating a start.”

The days of buying top stars are gone. “It’s no secret we can’t buy stars, but we can create them as we show every summer, the biggest clubs want the best players of Valencia,” he said. “Even, this summer we reject a lot of offers for [Roberto] Soldado, for [Adil] Rami and also for Tino Costa. Maybe we are keeping a good base of players and we are not going to sell more than one or two important players every summer.” But that is exactly what los Ches were forced to do. The windfall of Champion’s League ended last season and even the door to Europa League football is only just ajar, most likely requiring that los Ches a 2-0 deficit to Sevilla on Thursday night and go on to win the competition in Turin on May 14th to secure European football next season. Yet despite the hardship, there are no recriminations from the club. They not only accept the new reality, but think that it is fair (see Fiscal Responsibility) to be published shortly. They also believe that they will win the Europa League.

Challenging the Duopoly

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (April 29th 2014)

Glory Days

The days when València broke the duopoly of Barçelona and Real Madrid in Spanish football are long gone, although Atlético de Madrid have somehow found a way to challenge despite financial constraints. Previous owners of València left the club in serious financial straights. The iconic Mestalla Stadium is the oldest in the Primera División. It had been refurbished in the 1980s.

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València had contested two Champion’s League finals in a row, losing both to Real Madrid and Bayern München at the start of the last decade. They were the last club to break the duopoly, achieving that feat twice in the noughties. They won the double of the UEFA Cup and La Liga a decade ago under current Napoli coach Rafa Benítez Maudes.

Inheritance

The future then seemed promising. Benítez inherited a great team from Héctor Cúper, but it needed revamping soon, and Benítez knew it. He presented the then Board with a wish-list, but was told to achieve his targets with what he had. Benítez won the double. Too late the Board offered him funds. He resigned, enabling Liverpool to avoid paying compensation, even though it was obvious that he would take over at Anfield before long. He did.

His successor Claudio Ranieri – who had won the Copa del Rey in 1999 during his first spell at Mestalla – was given the funds, but largely wasted them. However, he won the UEFA Supercup before being succeeded by former Spanish international Quique Sánchez Flores, under whom the team challenged without collecting silverware.

Acrimonious

The Sánchez Flores era was shrouded in acrimony as club legend Amadeo Carbone finished his decade long playing stint at Mestalla, aged 40, and was was appointed technical director without being given time to learn his new profession. Carbone and Sánchez Flores clashed as the technical director and proceeded to buy players that the coach didnʼt want. It was a recipe for failure and it delivered.

Then Chairman Juan Bautista Soler was forced to fire Carbone despite the strong friendship between their wives. With Carbone gone Sánchez Flores was next. He was fired and eventually replaced by Ronald Koeman, whose turbulent reign did not even last a season, as the club flirted with relegation, but won the Copa del Rey. It was the last trophy won by los Ches to date.

Unai Emery came and delivered third place and Champion’s League football regularly, but the distance to the top two was considered too great. Managers came and went in a turbulent two seasons, which will probably end without European football at all unless they outwit former boss Emery on Thursday night and win the Europa League in Turin on May 14th.

Disaster

The good times were coming to an end as the global financial crisis hit València hard. Soler left, replaced by Vicente Soriano in 2008 – a man he is no longer allowed , but plans to build a new stadium were hit hard. Loan repayments threatened to rip the heart out of the proud club that boasts Spanish legends Alfredo di Stéfano and the late Luís Aragonés among its former coaches.

The club haemorrhaged talent. David Villa, David Silva, Raúl Albiol, Juan Mata, Isco, Roberto Soldado, Joaquín Sánchez and Pablo Hernández were all sold as other clubs circled, sensing bargains. There were also loans of players like Aly Cissokho to Liverpool and Adil Rami to AC Milan – the latter leaving in October even though he could not actually play for his new club until January.

The Future

No team could lose such talent over a few short years without it having an effect. Others had to be replaced too, such as club legend David Albelda. There was little option but to turn to youth – los Ches have a remarkable talent-spotting record. Another potential diamond has been unearthed locally (Torrent which is in the Commuidad de Valenciana) Francisco (Paco) Alcácer, who came through the clubʼs academy.

Alcácer has already played for Spain at youth level. Sadly the youngster was the subject of a harsh booking in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final against Sevilla. Trailing 0-2 los Ches have a tough assignment on Thursday night, but take confidence from their remarkable success in the quarter-final against Swiss champions Basel. Trailing 0-3 from the first leg, the Mestalla faithful would not take elimination as an option, producing the greatest recovery in the competitionʼs history, winning 5-0 at the Mestalla after extra time. Sevilla will underestimate this team at their peril. It remains to be seen if Emery is treated as well by the Mestalla faithful as David Villa was on Sunday evening.

 

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An Historic Rivalry

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 6th 2012)

A Proud Tradition

Levante Unión Deportiva has a proud history of resistance and social justice, drawing its support from the dockers and working class – its origins were in the docks of València. The city itself has a proud history too. València was the capital of the legendary thirteenth century warrior king Jaume I el Conqueridor (Conquistador), who drove the Muslim rulers out of both València and nearby cities too.

The monastery of El Puig is testament to Jaume’s prowess. It’s capture signalled the end of Islamic rule over the region and resulted in Jaume’s domain reaching the kingdom of his father-in-law, another great, but much different Spanish monarch Alfonso X el Sabio (the Wise), whose approach was far more enlightened and eventually resulted in his overthrow through plotting by the Pope and Alfonso’s courtiers in 1282.

Valèncian resistance continued into the twentieth century through the ill-fated government of author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and its role in Republican Spain. It rather than Barçelona was actually the capital of the Republic. València was the last city to surrender to Franco and paid for it with years of neglect and worse, especially.

Republican Football

Founded ten years before its more famous rival Levante holds the distinction of being the last holders of the Copa España Libre (the Cup of Free Spain), beating València 1-0 in the final in 1937 in Español’s Montjuic Stadium. The Spanish Civil War and the dictator Francisco Franco hatred of that competition ensured that Levante hold that title in perpetuity.

València at least competed, losing to their city rivals. Barçelona opted to tour México and the USA instead.

Franco punished football in both Barçelona and València too, brazenly favouring Real Madrid – a source of extra spice in the Classico and one that established Valèncian clubs as rivals too, but the historic ties establish Valèncian clubs as rivals of Barçelona too. Despite Jaume’s conquest of the city – a task that took 16 years – València never saw itself as part of Cataluña. It still doesn’t.

The City Rivalry

Levante supporters see themselves as working class and left wing and there is some resentment of their more successful city rivals, which they see as right-wing and favoured at their expense. València certainly has right-wing fans – the ultras Yomus for example, but Gol Gran never shared the racist or political outlook of Yomus.

The club managed to unite the peñas into one support base at Mestalla to provide unified support for the team. It’s needed as the financial crisis has affected attendances at Mestalla.

Both coaches Levante’s Juan Ignacio Martínez and València’s Mauricio Pellegrino acknowledged the importance of the fixture, but also of fair play too, but this is a derby and it is at Levante’s Estadi Ciutat de València. Anything can happen.Image

Reversal of Fortune

A week ago the form books told a different story. València was hovering in the wrong half of the table with just one win in La Liga and Europe too. Levante, the oldest club in the region, founded 103 years ago was perched two pints above their city rivals, but the next two matches for both teams reversed both form and confidence.

Mauricio Pellegrino’s new-look Valencia team dispatched last season’s miracle team – Manolo Jiménez had performed heroics in the historic city of Saragossa, defying the odds to enable Real Zaragoza to somehow avoid relegation. Valencia won 2-0 last Saturday despite the harsh sending off of Algerian Sofiane Feghouli with the best part of half an hour remaining. LOSC Lille proved no match at Mestalla on Tuesday either, losing by the same score.

Meanwhile, Levante suffered the reverse. Bottom-placed Osasuna thrashed Martínez’ side 4-0 in Pamplona. “The results were horrible last week,” he said, “but I am focused on València tomorrow.” It got worse as despite taking the lead against Hannover 96 in Germany in the Europa League and having a man advantage for 80 minutes, Levante surrendered the advantage to lose 2-1 on Thursday, meaning they are less rested and shorn of confidence.

A Special Challenge

València’s French left-back Aly Cissokho explained his hopes. “For me València is a big team with a big stadium and I want to discover a new challenge,” he told us. “After [Real] Madrid and Barçelona, València is the best. I hope to give the best for this challenge.”

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He is looking forward to his first Derby of València. “When I come to the centre of town everyone is speaking about this confrontation,” Cissokho told us. “Everybody wants to win, but I think if we play our game, we will win this game, but it will be difficult because it’s very difficult to play a derby, but we have to rest and play our game against Levante.”

 

The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Levante

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 6th 2012)

Importance

It isn’t the Classico which will also happen tomorrow, but València’s derby has no shortage of passion and incident. The doom and gloomers were forced to eat their words when the predicted failure did not occur. Instead, Levante surprised many last season with a fantastic campaign that briefly saw them emerge as the main challengers to Real Madrid and Barçelona, even topping the table in October. They were overtaken by València and also Málaga for Champion’s League spots too.

The latter secured the final Champion’s League spot by just one point from Atlético de Madrid and Levante. The latter didn’t have the resources thrown at them by Málaga’s filthy rich owners, or the services of the prolific Colombian striker Radamel Falcao.

Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani is one of the richest people in the world and owner of Málaga as well as being related to the ruler of Qatar. Levante could not compete with that financial clout and nor in fact could València or others too. Given their previous experience in La Liga Levante’s rise from the ashes is nothing short of phenomenal.

From Rack and Ruin to the Top Again

Their previous foray into the exalted territory of the Primera División began promisingly a 4-2 win over València at their Estadi Ciutat de València in the 2006-7 season being the highlight, but it couldn’t last. A year later an ignominious return to the second division occurred. Players had not been paid for several weeks and morale and form plumbed new depths.Image

In fact it emerged that they were owed €18m. Protests occurred and a strike was threatened. They went into free-fall and their exit from La Liga was confirmed several matches before the end of the season. An extra match was even arranged for the end of the season, where La Liga players united to play a benefit match against Levante to pay their players.

It remains a dark period in the club’s history – one that forced a change in approach and a fiscally responsible approach. Levante’s exile was short-lived. After two seasons in Segunda División A, the Estadi Ciutat de València would witness top flight football once more.

Resurgence

Luis García Plaza took over coaching Levante in 2008. He left last year after taking Levante back to La Liga to coach Getafe, but his former charges outplayed his new team to secure European football for the first time in the club’s history.

A large part of the credit for Levante’s La Liga resurgence must go to current coach Juan Ignacio Martínez. A run of seven consecutive wins a year ago saw Levante sit proudly at the top of the Primera División. It would take a brave or foolhardy person to write off those achievements even though by his own admission ‘it’s been a horrible week’.

The Form Book

It started with Levante in form in the right half of the table and tomorrows opponents València in the wrong half. Last weekend bottom of the table Osasuna thrashed Martínez’ side 4-0 in Pamplona and despite taking an early lead against Hannover 96 on Thursday and having a man advantage for the best part of 80 minutes, the Germans still took the 3 points. Despite the loss Levante is in second place in Group L of the Europa League having beaten Sweden’s Helsingborg a fortnight earlier.

Meanwhile, Mauricio Pellegrino succeeded Russia-bound Unai Emery at Mestalla and reversed a bad start last week with a brace of 2-0 wins against Real Zaragoza and LOSC Lille, although despite securing second place in their Champion’s League Group, they face a tricky trip to Belarus to face Bayern Munich’s conquerors BATE Borisov next. However both Pellegrino and Martínez had only one thing on their minds at this afternoon’s press conference – tomorrow’s derby of València.

 

On Patrol – The Tank wins Plaudits (Part Six)

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar July 6th 2008

Insignificant

Despite the good intentions and initiatives of Sports Minister Jaime Lissavetzky there is still work to be done. While Villarreal does not tolerate racist conduct, other clubs have developed a reputation for racist supporters. Surely such a high-profile black player like Marcos Senna da Silva has been subjected to racist conduct in stadiums like Saragossa’s La Romareda or Atlético de Madrid’s Vicente Calderón or Getafe’s Coliseum Alfonso Pérez?

In my years playing in Spain I have never experienced strong racism,” says Senna. “There were some – ten or fifteen at most – who insulted me. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was a tiny minority. It wasn’t enough to affect me.”

It was so insignificant to him that he doesn’t even remember where it happened. He is no apologist for racism in football and believes that it must be confronted, but Senna is equally convinced that his adopted homeland is not a racist nation. “Racism must be stamped out,” says Senna, “but as I have said previously Spain is not a racist country.”

So what would Marcos Senna like to see done to confront racism in his sport and in life? “The truth is I have no idea,” he says. “We all have to struggle to make sure that racism has no place in society.” So what about Senna himself? What does the future hold for him?

Future Plans

Senna went to the World Cup finals with his future unresolved. Arsenal had expressed an interest in him as had Real Madrid. Meanwhile Villarreal wanted him to extend his contract, but when Manchester United came in for him, a fee was agreed. It seemed as if Senna was bound for the Premiership, but after agreement between all parties had been reached Sir Alex Fergusson pulled out in order to aggressively pursue Bayern München’s Owen Hargreaves – England’s only success in a sub-standard World Cup campaign.

The German club refused to allow Hargreaves to leave, so Manchester United tried to land Senna with an improved offer. But by then both Senna and Villarreal were no longer interested. In September 2006 Senna signed a contract extension that ties him to the Madrigal until June 2010 and in the summer of 2007 Manchester United finally signed Hargreaves. Senna is happy at Villarreal – a club he has ambitions for.

Goals

There is a goal Senna has yet to achieve in club football. “My greatest ambition in football is to win a Primera División title with Villarreal,” he says. “It is a great club that is growing and is continuing to grow. It would be wonderful to win a title with this club.” Villarreal could not have had a better start to Senna’s quest for the league title in the season that has just ended.

An opening day visit to Valencia’s Mestalla wouldn’t seem like an ideal way to start the season for many clubs, but Villarreal was not overawed and left with all three points following a 3-0 win against a Valencia side reduced to nine men after both David Villa Sánchez and Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez were sent off.

During the course of the season they emerged as the only credible challengers to Real Madrid, although Bernd Schuster’s team won the title comfortably in the end, but Villarreal was the team that pushed them closest. They will have Champions League football next season and a growing confidence that they can make Senna’s dream come true.

He has similar dreams at international level too. He has achieved them in Vienna last month. Spain has the taste for more. Senna’s confidence could not be higher. Spain has achieved success and Villarreal came close. His stock is very high, but does he want to end his career in Spain?

I am happy here at Villarreal,” he says. “I want to carry on growing with this club. However, in theory if I were to move to another league I would want to play for a big club. In England it would be Manchester United: Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea. If it was in Italy or France I would want to play for one of the big teams.”

However, Senna is content and settled in Spain. He has no intention of leaving Villarreal. “Like I said, I am very happy here in Villarreal,” he says. “I want to win a title with this club. I am delighted here. I couldn’t be happier.”

Idols

Senna is an inspiration, especially to black Spanish youngsters, but who inspired him as a young boy growing up in São Paulo? He obviously admires Eto’o, but somewhat surprisingly for a Brasilian boy one of his idols in his youth is the Argentine great Diego Maradona. “Rómario was my childhood hero,” he says, “and before him it was Maradona. But Rómario was my idol.”

And what about now? Does he still have heroes in football now that he is a successful footballer – the highest profile black Spanish player? “No it is not the same as it was in my childhood,” says Senna. “It is my work now. I play against some of the best teams in the world with great players, so it is not the same. I had heroes and idols in my childhood, but not any more. Now I see that footballers are not from another world.”

 

On Patrol – The Tank wins Plaudits (Part Five)

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar July 6th 2008

No Mas

On February 26th 2006 Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o decided that enough was enough. Eto’o had also been monkey-chanted at Real Saragossa’s La Romareda stadium the previous season. He scored on that occasion and celebrated the goal by mimicking a monkey. It had no effect on the bigots. Disgusted by the persistent monkey-chanting and peanut-throwing racists in 2006 Eto’o decided that he would take no more.

He had to be persuaded not to leave the pitch by players of both teams and Barcelona’s then head coach, Frank Rijkaard. The incident put Spanish football in the dock again. Almost three months to the day earlier, Benfica’s Ivorian international defender Marc Zoro – then playing for Messina – was reduced to tears by racist abuse from fans of Internazionale of Milan in the Sicilian club’s San Filippo Stadium.

Zoro picked the ball up and approached the officials. His decision to continue was greeted with applause. Eto’o received more abuse. FIFA had had enough. Tough sanctions for racist conduct followed.

Article 55 of FIFA’s Disciplinary Code was amended to show that racism would not be tolerated. For a first offence clubs would face a fine of 30000 Swiss Francs. They would also have to play their next home match behind closed doors. And three points would be deducted. A second offence would cost the offender six points and if there was a third offence the club would be automatically relegated.

If no points were at stake, such abuse would result in disqualification. Last season French Ligue Deux team Bastia was docked a point for the persistent racist abuse of Libourne Saint Seurin’s Burkina Faso-born striker Boubacar Kébé. No Spanish team has faced Article 55 punishment despite incidents occurring that warranted it last season and the previous one too.

Combating Racism

Nevertheless, Senna does not believe that Spain is racist. Nor does he think that Spanish fans are racist, but he is far from soft on racism. “I agree with the initiative [the amended Article 55 of FIFA’s Disciplinary Code],” says Senna. “We have to stop racism from growing. We are all human beings and everyone is equal. People should not be judged for the colour of their skin.”

And Senna supports the work of Spain’s Anti-Violence Commission as well. He says, “We have to fight against violence, racism and xenophobia wherever it appears.”

The President of the Real Federación Español de Fútbol (RFEF)1 Ángel María Villar Llona addressed the Spanish Senate’s Special Commission to investigate the Eradication of Racism and Xenophobia from Spanish Sport in 2006. Villar Llona has steadfastly backed Luís Aragonés, insisting that the former Spanish international and head coach is no racist.

After a poor World Cup, Aragonés was rewarded with a contract extension. Spain also had a bad start to its campaign to qualify for the European Championship of 2008. Aragonés was under pressure because of poor results, rather than racism, but Spain not only qualified under Aragonés, but used the tag of under-achievement to motivate his team all the way to winning the European Championship at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna on June 29th 2008.

Unequivocal Opposition to Racism

Senna unequivocally opposes racism. So does he think that his adopted country has done enough to combat racism? “I don’t know if they (the RFEF) has done enough to combat racism in football in the past,” he says, “but they are doing it now. Racism has to be stamped out.”

Villar Llona has consistently maintained his position that racism is not really a problem in Spanish football. He told the Special Commission that racism was an insult to Spanish society and football, but there were only isolated incidents perpetrated by a minority.

He believed that it had to be confronted and said that both the clubs and RFEF had to work with players, community organisations and immigrants’ organisations to eradicate racism and xenophobia. He also wanted to use football idols to get the message through. He admitted that previous efforts had not been successful and that they had made mistakes. So why have they failed to ask Senna to front such efforts?

Zero Tolerance

Among the players racially abused by Getafe fans previously is Eto’o – a player Senna clearly admires, both as a footballer and as a person. “Samuel is a player everyone would want in their team,” said Senna. “He scores lots of goals. He is a man of integrity. If he is protesting against racism, it is with good reason. I support his fight. It has to be stopped. I hope that he won’t have to suffer racism ever again and that he will soon go back to scoring plenty of goals.”

Senna’s club Villarreal leads the way with a tough anti-racist policy – one that demonstrates no tolerance of racist chanting or acts, which Senna fully supports. No black player has ever been monkey-chanted in Villarreal’s El Madrigal stadium, where he plies his trade and there is good reason for that.

Villarreal has no truck with racism. Posters are prominently displayed saying that ‘No racist behaviour will be tolerated in the Madrigal Stadium,’ and that offenders ‘will be identified and face consequences in accordance to Spanish law.’

These posters can be seen all over the stadium in both Spanish and English. Nobody has been prosecuted yet as there have not been any racist incidents. Empower-Sport Magazine commends Villarreal for their forward thinking approach. The initiative was the idea of the local police in the town of Vila-real, where the club is based. Villarreal was happy to adopt the policy. Others would do well to pay attention to it, both in and out of Spain.

1 It translates as the Royal Federation of Spanish Football.