The Premier League is taking itself too seriously according to the Spanish media, reports Phil Ball

Official Spanish response to the 39th game has been muted, to say the least. This may be due to several factors, but chief among them is that Angel Villar, the immovable president of the Spanish Federation for the past 20 years, has other more urgent things on his plate, such as the hostility of FIFA, rival gangs of candidates for his job, and all manner of accusations ranging from corruption to the showing of favouritism to his much loved Athletic Bilbao.

The sports tabloid Marca, however, did pronounce themselves “surprised” in their editorial on the issue, adding that it was a sign that the Premier League had begun to take itself a little too seriously, and that it was a sign of arrogance to assume that only they would have sufficient international appeal to make the venture viable.

Not that this was Richard Scudamore’s brief, exactly, although his idea that the experiment could become a model for other leagues has been taken with a pinch of salt by observers in Spain. The most vocal of these has been Johan Cruyff, writing in the Catalan newspaper El Periódico. Cruyff labelled the proposal “absurd”, suggesting that the English had been blinded by the glint of filthy lucre – which is a bit rich coming from him.

Cruyff went on to suggest that the proposal to play a game abroad contradicted the essence of football, in that its original “spirit” was based squarely on the concept of local identity, not on some international travelling circus. He also accused Scudamore of importing commercial-speak from the USA, a country where the soccer season lasts for only six months yet where clubs’ money-making goes on for rather longer.

However, the general feeling that one detects in the Spanish response is one of cultural bemusement. The pair may play friendlies elsewhere, but any serious encounter involving Real Madrid or Barcelona (whether they’re playing each other or not) draws its essence from the very soil on which the game is being played. There’s always some politico-cultural history behind every La Liga match, and thus to transfer some of this to foreign soil makes no sense.

The biggest Spanish sides can continue to increase their revenues via a quick summer tour to some faraway location, but that’s all a part of accepted marketing strategy in the upper echelons these days – the Spanish will draw the line between sport and mammon more clearly than those currently in charge of English football. Seen from Spain, Game 39 is akin to drinking tea at five o’clock, putting butter on your bread and driving on the left. Just plain weird.

From WSC 254 April 2008

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