The arrest of the undisputed king of Spanish football, Angel Maria Villar, was both a shock and unexpected at the same time. A much needed reckoning has begun
When police agents raided the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) offices first thing in the morning last Tuesday, the public reaction was a blend of shock and inevitability. Everyone and their dog saw some swift legal action coming, although that doesn’t subtract an ounce of gravitas from finally seeing Spanish football’s top brass, Angel María Villar, his son Gorka Villar and one of his Vice-Presidents (Juan Padron) being cuffed and taken into custody.
All three of them are under suspicion of several charges: embezzlement of profits from national team friendlies, and the spreading of cash for favours, particularly in relation to gaining votes from other territorial federations in elections.
Two months ago, Villar was re-elected for his 8th consecutive mandate: since his first election, in 1988, no other candidate has dared to oppose him. Only a handful of challengers have emerged in almost three decades. The last one to bite the dust, Jorge Perez, claimed that Villar’s win in May wasn’t fair and square.
A high-ranking FIFA official was arrested in a fraud investigation relating to Spain’s national team matches https://t.co/boMCFy9SFu
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 18, 2017
The so-called ‘Operation Soule’ has been ongoing for more than one year, with the investigation currently under wraps as the suspects are interrogated. The tentacles of the conspiracy even reach federations such as the Valencian or Canary Islands ones, where their presidents seem also to be in trouble.
Was this unexpected? Actually, it wasn’t. The list of reports, investigations, books, interviews and sheer evidence pointing towards something fishy inside the RFEF has been piling up year after year, until the garbage was so smelly that there was no other choice than to start cleaning it up.
All the evidence stacked against him never stopped Villar from securing his position in the chair; however, once large sums of money entered the picture, Spanish authorities weren’t so indulgent and things have become sticky for the former Athletic de Bilbao player.
While the investigation goes on, the ripples are affecting all of the football-related areas in the country. Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, Villar’s nemesis for many years and probably the happiest man on Earth last Tuesday, simply stated that the arrest was “nothing new”. “I’ve been telling you everything that I think of him for a decade now”, he added. In a curious case of irony finding a way to shine, Tebas has his own problems with the law, as tax authorities are investigating one of his businesses for a reportedly defrauded quantity of €5 million.
— AS English (@English_AS) July 19, 2017
The power struggle between Tebas and Villar has dragged Spanish football through the mud over the last couple of years, achieving the impressive feat of both destroying the goodwill and prestige earned by the national team (which is slowly being rebuilt by Julen Lopetegui after two consecutive failures in the World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016) and relegating La Liga to a third wheel behind the Premier League and Bundesliga steamrollers, more exciting on the pitch, with wealth coming from TV rights more evenly distributed and overall better structured and organized.
While chaos and uncertainty overshadow the RFEF’s inner workings, only once thing remains clear: the wheel has begun turning, and nothing seems to be able to stop it. In a process that has been eternally postponed for years, it’s about time to start pulling things out from under the rug and see just how big and how far the ugly mittens of corruption reach into the Spanish game.
As a coda to all of this, a throwback to an earlier piece denouncing just how awful La Liga’s calendar draw and organization system are. In the wake of Villar’s arrest, the whole draw was put into jeopardy as the RFEF decided to call off the clubs and presidents meeting that had to take place on the morning of July 20th, minutes before the calendar was made official.
La Liga wasn’t ready to back down (after all, learning about your season schedule less than one month before the actual season begins is infamous enough) and threatened to carry on with the draw anyway, even if they had to do it behind closed doors. Now *that* would have been reassuring and squeaky clean, right?
At the end of the day, both parties decided to push back the date 24 hours and the event will take place on Friday July 21st. An example that shows just how things work under here: with bickering and petty pissing-contests on the surface while corruption, shady businesses and a rotten system reigns underneath.