Spanish clubs have started to influence the results of matches by offering certain teams lavish incentives. Alex Simpson reports on this legal method of winning the league

When Hercules Alicante beat Barcelona in the game which all but scuppered the latter’s title hopes, the winning team were reported to have picked up $50,000 a man from rivals Real Madrid. Barcelona reciprocated by offering a $2 million incentive to Atlético Madrid in the title decider derby. Big bucks weren’t on offer in the relegation battle at the other end of the table the following week, but with the new TV deal kicking in, the stakes were equally high.

Pedro Nieto, President of Extremadura, the smallest-ever club to grace Spain´s top flight, hit on a novel way to ensure that the opponents of fellow relegation candidates took to the field equally motivated.

He offered a leg of cured ham to each of the players of Real Madrid & Barcelona if they beat Celta Vigo & Rayo Vallecano, who were just above Extremadura in the table. And it was not just any old ham on offer. This is a speciality of the region after which the team takes its name. The hams are from pigs fed entirely on special acorns, then cured for two to two and a half years, and can fetch up to $1,000 per leg. “Everything helps to motivate, including ham,” declared Barcelona captain Guillermo Amor. Marseille-bound Laurent Blanc even left a message with team-mates for his to be sent on to France.

Not to be outdone, Celta Vigo offered Extremadura´s opponents a slap-up seafood supper – a speciality in Vigo – in exchange for doing the business. Rayo Vallecano, another of the division´s paupers, felt the need to get in on the food war, too, although they were offering the standard club gift of handmade chocolates. (Not the most costly gift on offer, but as the media, who voraciously covered the food war have pointed out, the most expensive item per kilo.)

The Spanish public overwhelmingly backed this latest twist in the bribes saga, and were looking forward to finding out which team would be going hungry. Extremadura, it seemed, had managed to do what no Spanish ruler has ever managed, unify almost the entire population (except naturally for supporters Celta and Rayo), all keen, it seemed, for the Extremadurans from the tiny town of Almendralejo to stay up.

History, however, is no respecter of sentiment. Deportivo duly beat the ham wielding Extremadura 1-0, Celta romped to a 4-0 drubbing of champs Real, leaving Rayo, who fell to a late winner from Barcelona (2-1) to enter the relegation play-offs (they duly lost to Mallorca and went down). The chocolate factories are now on overtime for next season´s promotion dogfight “incentives”.

All this kerfuffle must have got club presidents thinking ahead. With the Canary Isles being Europe's biggest banana producer, Tenerife’s owner might not be short of a gift or two. Meanwhile his counterparts in Oviedo and Gijon, the heart of the country´s coalmines, may have already issued the order to start stockpiling in preparation for the long campaign ahead (à la Thatcher in the “Cup Final” versus Scargill in 1984-85). And the president of Racing Santander will not lose any sleep on his beach deckchair this summer given that his town is home to Spain´s largest bank...

From WSC 126 August 1997. What was happening this month

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