LA LIGA PLAYERS are set to strike for the first time in 27 years after failing to agree terms with league officials over the issue of improved salary guarantees.
“We have made clear that all the players support the players’ association,” Barcelona striker David Villa said. “If a solution is not found, we won’t play.”
And after this week’s unproductive meetings, it appears that any solution will be hard come by.
“It is impossible, at this point in the week, to reach a deal to sign a new collective bargaining agreement,” league president Jose Luis Astiazaran said on Thursday.
The conflict is all about player wages. Players want better guarantees, with clubs owing up to $72 million in unpaid salaries to more than 200 players.
The league has proposed to create a fund for players whose teams are under bankruptcy protection that would guarantee a minimum annual salary of $345,000 for players in the first division and $172,000 for those in the second division. It says this is “the maximum the league’s economic capacity” can afford.
However, the players’ association says that is not enough.
“The fund to guarantee salaries is a system imposed by the league so that the teams can continue to take advantage of bankruptcy protection with complete impunity,” the AFE said in a statement.
At the centre of the dispute is Spain’s bankruptcy law, which allows insolvent clubs to re-negotiate or delay paying player salaries — just like other outstanding debts — while under bankruptcy protection.
The players’ association wants to put on end to this and supports legislation making its way though the Spanish parliament that would immediately relegate clubs to the third division if they become insolvent and are unable to meet their payrolls. It is expected to pass in September, but wouldn’t go into effect until the end of this season.
There are six topflight clubs and a number of second-division clubs in bankruptcy protection.
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said that he had no part in the conflict, but he would stand by his players’ decision.
“That’s not my (problem, but) if it’s a decision by the players I have to respect that,” he said. “If we have to play next weekend, we are ready to play.”
Other clubs have direct conflicts with the strike.
Villarreal faces a critical game on Tuesday when it must rally from a 1-0 deficit against Danish club Odense in its Champions League qualifying round series. The club has announced its players are expected to report for training Friday morning.
Barring a deal over the next few days, the AFE plans to continue the work stoppage the following weekend, delaying the second round of games as well.
The league wouldn’t begin until 10 September under such a scenario. The league has not announced if the games scheduled for the first week would then be played or if the calendar would be reshuffled.
“It looks like that until Christmas there are no possible dates for the games,” said Real Sociedad midfielder Xabi Prieto. “So if we have to we’ll play during the Christmas break.”
Since its creation in 1979, the AFE has called three previous strikes, the last coming in 1984.
Additional reporting: Paul Fennessy