Javier Tebas, the man who accused Paris Saint-Germain of “peeing in the pool” and flouting football’s financial rules, is know for shooting from the hip and now it is Fifa in the outspoken Spanish league chief’s crosshairs.
Specifically, LaLiga president Tebas is disturbed by his Fifa counterpart Gianni Infantino’s apparent determination to transform the Club World Cup from mid-season sideshow to a major money-spinning, 24-team summer spectacular.
Amid mooted overhauls to the Champions League and talk of other breakaway competitions being led by the game’s biggest teams, it is one of several threats to the stability and future prosperity of European football that Tebas is determined to fight.
“I think this whole process has gone mad,” he said of Fifa’s plans, adding that the world governing body was trying to go from regulator to direct competitor of national leagues.
“This is something that worries me because I think we had a balanced ecosystem between the different leagues and competitions in Europe amd the different continents. Now we have a sort of intruder who might disprupt that balance.”
Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez is said to have pitched to Fifa a potential season-long breakaway competition for the world’s richest teams, effectively replacing domestic leagues and European tournaments such as the Champions League.
“I think it would be a mistake for Real Madrid – a very serious mistake in fact,” Tebas told a media briefing in London. “I think Florentino Perez isn’t aware of the consequences. I don’t think he’s aware of the impact this will have on Real Madrid’s legacy.”
European governing body Uefa’s own radical proposals for the Champions League, which also threatened to benefit only a handful of mega-clubs, look to have been seen off. Instead, Tebas argues, the game should be levelling the playing field.
“I don’t think we’re helping football if we generate wealth and it goes straight back to the big clubs,” he said.
“[They] share out the large part of their income on behalf of their players and instead of having 12 Ferraris they have 15; instead of having 10 Lamborghinis they have 12. So our aim is to redistribute that wealth.”
Tebas remains dissatisfied with Uefa’s enforcement of Financial Fair Play rules with respect to PSG and, to a lesser degree, Manchester City, two clubs whose Gulf state-backed spending he continues to refer to as financial “doping”.
Wage inflation caused by such spending has, he says, put pressure on other major clubs, who in turn seek new revenue streams and find temptation in talk of breakaway leagues.
“That’s not the solution, but part of the problem is the inflation,” he said.
Preparing for OTT
Tebas’s other key concern is football’s adoption of over-the-top broadcasting, which he believes is a matter of time.
“If we’re not ready, it could lead to a drop in value,” he said. “It is going to happen in football. We need to be prepared for that transition.”
While the Premier League has sold rights for some games to Amazon, Tebas insists he will only follow suit if streaming platforms agree to share consumer behaviour data on LaLiga’s audience.
“This is the key for our future, to add value to our broadcasting rights,” he said.
A deal with OTT provider Eleven Sports, axed last year after less than a season, “didn’t work well”, concedes Tebas, so Spanish football is back on UK screens this campaign via a dedicated channel, LaLigaTV, which launched last week and is available on Sky and Virgin as well as online via Premier Sports.
Taking LaLiga overseas
Tebas sees international interest in LaLiga as crucial to his goal of bridging the revenue gap to the Premier League, although ambitious plans to stage a match in the United States have thus far been thwarted by the Spain’s football association, the RFEF.
The RFEF’s decision to stage the Spanish Super Cup mini-tournament in Saudi Arabia earlier this month, therefore, did not impress Tebas – both for its apparent double standards and its endorsement of a country whose human rights record has been criticised and which is widely held to be responsible for major piracy operation beoutQ.
“The Saudi Arabia government has a policy whereby they improve their image through sport, whitewashing their image, and we all have a responsibility,” he said. “Money is not the only thing that matters.”