Price of success

wsc300 The Spanish national team are preparing for Euro 2012 with a series of taxing, but lucrative, friendlies. Dermot Corrigan explains

It was understandable that many England fans would happily celebrate last November’s 1-0 win over the reigning world and European champions at Wembley. There was, though, at least some recognition that Spain have not been at their best recently. Since winning the last World Cup, La selección have qualified for the summer’s Euro 2012 finals with a 100 per cent record. But they have also lost 4-1 to Argentina, 4-0 to Portugal and 2-1 to Italy in friendlies, while also drawing with Mexico and Chile. A number of reasons have been put forward for this, including less motivated players, highly motivated rivals, inter-club politics and the idea that extra substitutions helps opponents counter Spain’s tiki-taka style. A further factor should be added – money.

The Spanish football association, the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF), has been quick to see the value of being world champions. Since the World Cup, Spain have played ten friendlies, with eight of them away from home, and five outside Europe. The RFEF have earned a reported €15 million (£12.5m) from these games. It cost £500,000 to attract Spain to your country before Euro 2008. The price is now up to £2m.

“The Spanish national team has become a machine for making money,” wrote journalist José Félix Díaz in the Spanish paper El Confidencial in November. “The success in the Euros and the World Cup has turned the RFEF into a very economically healthy organisation.” The Madrid sports tabloid Marca was more forthright in its analysis, headlining an opinion piece: How much to rent Spain’s world champion stars? They did the maths and came up with an answer: £16,000 per minute of playing time.

This did not seem such a big deal when the opponents were Argentina, Italy or England. But the decision to play in Costa Rica the Tuesday after the Wembley game was a bit much. La Liga clubs – ie Madrid and Barcelona – were especially unhappy with their players taking two 11-hour flights in four days. On their arrival in Costa Rica, the national team coach Vicente Del Bosque went on Spanish radio station Onda Cero and denied reports that his squad would have preferred not to travel. “The journey was very comfortable, and everyone is delighted to be here and wants to play. As I have said before, the clubs should not be worried, nobody should be alarmed. Our objective is that the national team continues to prepare and improve.”

The Spanish squad was given the red carpet treatment in San José, and RFEF president Ángel María Villar, Del Bosque and the players were received by the Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla the day before the game. Ordinary Costa Ricans had less chance of meeting Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta et al. Match tickets cost from 39,000 Costa Rican colons (£50) to 175,000 CRC, plus booking fees. The Spanish press reported that 10,000 tickets were still on sale the day before the game, which was played mid-afternoon local time to maximise TV revenues back in Europe.

These revenues were reportedly being collected by Costa Rican entrepreneur Ernesto Arceyut and his marketing company Adivisor, who were paying the RFEF £1.6m to organise the visit. The deal was smoothed by reportedly excellent relations between Villar and his Costa Rican counterpart Eduardo Li. It apparently included a clause that at least 70 per cent of the World Cup winning squad would play. The PR for the association worsened when the Spanish press wrote that San José’s shiny new £70m Estadio Naciónal – where the game was played – was the fruit of a controversial agreement between the governments of Costa Rica and China.

The performance of the Spanish players during the game backed up the rumours they were not thrilled with the trip. A rare Iker Casillas howler gave the Costa Ricans the lead. Spain trailed by 2-0 with just ten minutes remaining, before professional pride kicked in and goals from David Silva and David Villa salvaged a draw.

It is difficult to feel much sympathy for the players. There were initial reports of the squad being unhappy at being treated as cash-cows by the RFEF, but they have recently negotiated a piece of the action for themselves. It has been reported that they now received 66 per cent of the commercial revenue generated by such prestige games. So it seems that, when it comes to friendlies at least, Spain just can’t lose.

From WSC 300 February 2012