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Spanish Soccer’s President Lashes Out at Rivals, and Partners

Category: Other Sports,Sports

In a week when Europe’s top soccer executives have hunkered down amid a wave of unprecedented leaks, the leader of Spain’s league took the opportunity to go on the attack.

Emboldened by recent leaks of documents that implicate Manchester City and Paris St.-Germain in possible attempts to obscure their spending and establish cozy relationships with soccer regulators, the La Liga chief executive, Javier Tebas, said in an interview that the two clubs — and others that flout soccer financial rules — should face punishments that he says are long overdue.

“It was clear in the past that they were making dirty tricks; everything is crystal clear now,” Tebas said of City and P.S.G three days after the surfacing of leaked documents that appeared to confirm his long-held complaints the clubs had manipulated financial control measures.

Still, Tebas said it was not clear either club would face sanctions in part because of a tangled web of financial relationships that City, P.S.G. and European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, have with financial powers in the Middle East. The royal family of the United Arab Emirates owns Manchester City, the reigning Premier League champion, and the sovereign wealth fund of the Qatari royal family owns both P.S.G. and beIN Sport, the network that has committed billions of dollars to televise the Champions League and other top competitions.

That was why, Tebas said, UEFA has not acted to police violations. “There’s a conflict of interest,” he said.

Manchester City, P.S.G. and UEFA all declined requests for comment on Tebas’s remarks. In other news reports, all three have described the recently leaked documents as malicious and have questioned their authenticity.

European news organizations, led by Germany’s Der Spiegel, began publishing a cache of internal documents Friday. The documents, the publication of which has rattled executives at the highest levels of the game, also detailed plans for a potential breakaway league featuring the sports biggest teams — an effort that appears to be supported by Real Madrid’s billionaire president, Florentino Pérez.

Under one version of the so-called super league plan, more than a dozen of Europe’s biggest teams would consider leaving their domestic competitions to play one another beginning in 2021. The clubs linked to the competition include two from La Liga (Real Madrid and Barcelona) but also Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Juventus — and Manchester City and P.S.G.

Among the documents was a term sheet for a potential breakaway tournament produced by Key Capital Partners, the Madrid-based advisers to Real Madrid and Pérez’s construction company, A.C.S.

“If these big European teams want to create a strategy to kill their own football fans, they can create a super league and they’ll succeed in killing these fans within 10 years,” Tebas said.

Both P.S.G. and Manchester City have been sanctioned in the past over their spending, though UEFA has stopped short of handing down the harshest punishment — banning the teams from top competitions like the Champions League — though that fate has befallen other less-powerful institutions who breached the organization’s Financial Fair Play rules.

Other clubs have complained about what they see as unfair treatment.

“The FFP struggle is real for (some of us),” Italian team AS Roma tweeted in response to the leaks.

UEFA is once again reviewing P.S.G’s finances after its recent acquisitions of the Brazilian star Neymar and the French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappé; Neymar’s purchase more than doubled the world transfer record, and Mbappé’s move from Monaco made him the world’s second-costliest player. P.S.G. is trying to block a new UEFA review of those deals through an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Tebas’s charges of a conflict of interest were the most likely to drive a wedge between La Liga and beIN Sports, which owns the rights to Spanish soccer in multiple markets. But he dismissed any potential consequences for the league.

“If they’re not willing to buy them we’ll go somewhere else to sell them,” Tebas said. “The stability of professional football in Europe can’t be bought by money.”

UEFA’s financial task force will hold its first meeting since the leaks on Wednesday. Tebas said he was planning to file a complaint with Europe’s competition regulators if UEFA does not take action. But he may face questions of his own at home for his criticisms of Spain’s domestic powers.

The breakaway plan involving Europe’s biggest clubs is something Pérez, the Real Madrid president, had been working on for years, Tebas added.

Real didn’t respond to a request for comment about Tebas’s critique. Tebas and Real Madrid are locked in a separate battle over his plan to play an official league match in the United States, perhaps as early as this season. Tebas wants to use the match to raise the profile of the other teams in La Liga that are dwarfed by the popularity of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Barcelona is scheduled to play the first match against Girona on Jan. 26 in Miami, but players, fans and — most important — the Spanish soccer federation all have objected to the idea. Without the federation’s blessing, some in soccer believe, the game cannot be played.

At a dinner last month, Tebas and Luis Rubiales, the Spanish federation’s combative leader, failed to resolve the dispute. So Tebas said he was turning to the courts: La Liga plans to file a motion this week in Madrid to get the city’s mercantile court to force the federation’s hand.

“We think we have the right,” Tebas said, adding, “They can hack me tomorrow if they want.”


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