Quite predictably the headlines in Madrid are being dominated by Real’s victory in the Champions league whilst the Barcelona based press are trying desperately to create some kind of feud between Mourinho and Rijkaard. There is, however, a story over here that has been completely ignored by the media outside of Spain and is quite a good example of the kind of farcical situation that only Spanish football could concoct.
It all began around about two years ago when the former Athletic Bilbao president, Fernando Lamikiz, saw fit to be photographed alongside his latest ‘free’ signing – a promising young full back called Iban Zubiaurre.
The problem was, Zubiaurre was a Real Sociedad player, with a full twelve months remaining on his contract. A contract that included an impressive 33 million euros buy-out clause.
Lamikiz claimed that Sociedad had verbally agreed to rescind the player’s contract and that he was, in fact, a free agent. Real Sociedad, and their new President Miguel Fuentes, claimed that they knew nothing of such an agreement and demanded the full 33 million euros for the talented defender.
Open warfare broke out between the two Basque clubs and with neither side willing to back down from their position, the dispute wound up in the courts. The Basque judiciary decided that Athletic would have to pay 5 million euros to Real Sociedad for the services of the player. Unfortunately, Athletic Bilbao don’t have five million euros and even if they could find that much cash, Real Sociedad appealed and completely refused to accept the ruling – and stuck to their demands of the 33 million euros in full.
Whilst everyone has been awaiting the verdict of the appeal court, the player has been kicking his heels training with his local team Durango, whose request to allow him to play the odd game for them was also turned down by Sociedad. As a result, the talented young full back, an under 21 international, effectively watches his career go down the tubes. He has not played a competitive game of football in over 18 months.
To make matters worse, the appeal ruling was postponed because almost four months after his appointment, the Judge decided that he would have to step down because he was an Athletic fan and could not reach an objective judgement. Quite why it took him that long to come to that decision and what it says about the judiciary in Spain if they are unable to prevent footballing allegiances from clouding their judgement is another matter.
A judge has eventually been found and he ruled yesterday that the original decision made by the courts should be upheld. Either the player or Athletic will have to find 5 million euros if Zubiaurre is ever to play football in Spain again.
We can be sure of one thing. This will not be the end of the matter as it raises further questions. Do Athletic or the player have 5 million euros between them? Will Sociedad continue to hold the players registration in perpetuity until somebody come up with the money? And perhaps of greater significance for football in Spain – What does this say about the validity of buy out clauses in general?
Real Sociedad will no doubt feel that they are entitled to 33 million euros because that was the clause agreed in the contract. Does this now mean that these clauses are worthless? After all, how did the courts come up with a figure of 5 million?
Somehow, we don’t think this is the end of this sorry affair.