By Brendan Timmons
There was a time, not so long ago, when the term ‘Beautiful Game’ wasn’t undermined by a potent hint of irony. Though the perception may be regarded as cynical, ‘beautiful’ hardly seems the appropriate adjective to attach to a sport so infested with disloyalty, hypocrisy and unrivalled self-indulgence. Yet, however disruptive such components may be, they are merely a bi-product of the most prevalent and problematic element of the game: Money. Quite simply, money makes football and money breaks football and as of late Rayo Vallecano have become intimately acquainted with the latter concept. As such, in the advent of new financial regulation in the game many of us endorse the notion of financial fair play because we, perhaps naively, envisage the main casualties as being a selection high profile clubs who have thrown their weight around for too long. In that respect, the predicament of Rayo Vallecano serves as a startling reality check for those of us with such fanciful preconceptions as what we have here is simply the story of a team whose ambitions out sized it’s wallet.
If you are a fan of Rayo Vallecano, the last few days have principally involved dwelling on the team’s trajectory over the last seven years. Rarely has a club experienced such an abundance of twists and turns in such a short time and if this week’s controversies are evidence of what is to come, a few more disorientating developments are imminent. 2003 was the year that Rayo bid farewell to top flight Spanish football, and the subsequent time spent floundering in the obscurity of Spain’s lower divisions merely served as a prelude to the compelling chaos that has come to define the club this season. Last weekend’s encounter with Huesca featured an unusual overture in which the Vallecano players, clearly not partial to subtlety, displayed a banner which communicated their sentiments to the board, namely that they are exasperated by the club’s recurring failure to pay them. The spectacle was hardly awash with ambiguity but what ensued certainly delivered a blunt message; When Rayo took to the field they were uncharacteristically bereft of enthusiasm, and their general incoherence culminated in two quick-fire goals towards the end of the first half, before ultimately losing the game 4-1. All of sudden, Rayo seem a conspicuously vulnerable outfit.
But perhaps to appreciate the severity of the defeat it is imperative to contextualise it. Until a month ago, Rayo were delicately treading the threshold between the Segunda A and La Liga. The team was boasting a consistently impressive form which seemed to comprehensively deviate from the sporadic sparks of superiority that had become synonymous with the club in previous seasons. However, in February things started to unravel and Wednesday evening’s triumph at home to Alcorcon does not rectify the 3 notably underwhelming performances which preceded it( the 4-1 defeat against Huesca, a home draw with Gimnastic and an away loss at Tenerife). Yet, promotion remains very much within their grasp but it’s attainability will be primarily defined by the extent to which they can confine the financial turbulence to the boardroom. Indeed, Rayo’s president Teresa Rivero was candidly unsympathetic regarding the plight of the players, commenting on Saturday at half-time to Canal+ journalists that ‘It seems that they don’t want to move up’ before asserting that ‘they’ll get paid by the end of the season’. Rivero is understandably disconcerted by the team’s arrested development as she, as much as the fans, recognises the very real possibility that everything Rayo Vallecano have worked for over the last 7 years could be completely jeopardised by their fiscal dilemma.
The trouble is, their financial woes have continued to manifest themselves in the team and the reputed 21.72 million Euro debt won’t be budging any time soon. Numerous first team players are owed several months worth of wages and, if rumour is to be believed, defensive midfielder Jose Maria Movilla is due up to a year’s worth of pay. Moreover, the angst of the fans is unlikely to be quelled by the fact that their sole goalscorer from the Huesca encounter, Borja Gomez, has recently departed from the club, citing the recurring payment delays: ‘For me, the situation isn’t sustainable because I have only been paid for 2 of the 8 months that I have been at the club and my situation was critical.’ Ultimately, the exasperation of the players does seem warranted. Let’s temporarily suspend our ridicule of football’s inflated salaries and contemplate the aggravation of being forced to proficiently perform one’s job each week, under immense pressure and without any imminent income. As such, Teresa Rivero’s recent scrutiny of the players’ professionalism isn’t likely to endear her to either the players or the fans and her frequent allusions to the substantial investments of her family have caused her to be rendered by much of the Spanish media as the villain of this particular pantomime. The solitary certainty for all involved, however, is that the drama shows no signs of relenting.
The shadow cast by Real Madrid has proven to be a particularly awkward habitat for Rayo Vallecano as they are, in truth, the after-thought of Madrid based football, a role thrust upon them by their marginalised position in the Spanish domestic game. However, this season has presented them with the opportunity to venture in from the football wilderness and, though their course has been rife with unsavoury incidents, if Rayo were to salvage promotion from this current turmoil even the staunch cynics among us would likely be awed. After all, it would offer a comforting reassurance that, for now at least, money isn’t the be all and end of our beloved ‘Beautiful Game’.