On Saturday, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez used the club’s annual assembly to once again attack his La Liga counterpart Javier Tebas.
The 76-year-old claimed La Liga had taken “repeated actions… against the interests of Real Madrid”, called the competition’s deal with private equity fund CVC a “scourge for Spanish football” and also criticised Tebas’s salary. Tebas responded in a typically direct fashion with a post on Twitter in which he accused Perez of telling “serious lies about La Liga” and added that there had been “no increase” to his salary, before his organisation posted a longer statement later.
Escucho el discurso de Florentino Pérez, a parte de repetir año tras año lo mismo sobre los jóvenes, abonados tv… que demuestra que ni el ni su equipo gestor se entera de lo que está ocurriendo de verdad, añade mentiras gravisimas sobre Laliga, miente sobre la subida del…
— Javier Tebas Medrano (@Tebasjavier) November 11, 2023
For seasoned La Liga observers, the war of words was nothing new — Perez and Tebas have long been at odds with each other. But when did the dispute begin and was there something more intriguing at the end of Perez’s speech?
The Athletic explains.
Real Madrid and Florentino Perez: A portrait of one man’s ultimate power
What did Perez say in his speech?
For years, Perez has hardly agreed to any interviews or spoken to the media, which is why his speeches at the club’s annual assemblies have been so eagerly awaited by Madrid’s members. It was no different this time, with Perez starting by criticising the overall state of football and referring to UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin and Tebas.
“There is an unprecedented institutional crisis in Spain and in Europe,” he said. “The problem is that there are leaders who act without thinking about the fans. European football does not belong to the president of UEFA, nor Spanish football to the president of La Liga. That’s why the Super League is more necessary than ever.”
It was no surprise to hear Perez espouse the virtues of the European Super League again — the project he has continued to lead despite its apparent collapse when it was first launched in 2021. He focused much of his criticism on La Liga and Tebas, which was well-received by members. They even cut him short with applause at times.
“The issue that most concerns us, and for which we have to take very strong measures, is the repeated actions of La Liga against the interests of Real Madrid,” Perez said. “These actions have a single objective: to attack the financial assets of our club. First, they tried to expropriate 11 per cent of our income from audiovisual rights for 50 years. And then, they tried to modify the ‘sports law’ with the aim of appropriating our commercial rights.”
Perez condemned the €2.1billion (£1.8bn, $2.3bn) deal agreed between La Liga and international investors CVC Capital Partners last year known as ‘La Liga Boost’, which saw Spanish clubs receive additional funding in exchange for a stake in a new company that would obtain the country’s broadcast revenue and sponsorship rights for the next 50 years.
He described the deal as a “scourge for Spanish football” and claimed Tebas had “abused his power” to negotiate the terms of the agreement with other clubs behind Real Madrid’s back. “We trust that, given its irregularities, it will be definitively annulled by the Spanish courts,” he added. There is no sign of this happening yet with court cases still ongoing.
There was criticism of La Liga’s new broadcast package — Madrid are not allowing broadcasters Movistar and DAZN to do their pre- and post-match transmissions from within the Santiago Bernabeu, as they argue the revenue made from these broadcasts should belong to the club itself.
As La Liga sends cameras behind the scenes, Real Madrid face €13m hit for refusing access
Finally, Perez complained that Madrid are not members of the La Liga Delegate Commission — a group of clubs who meet more regularly than the full assembly, which take some decisions and make proposals to be voted on by all clubs — arguing this prevents them from knowing what the organisation spends its money on.
Perez called for greater transparency and said: “We do know that more and more is being spent, like the president’s annual salary, which has just gone up again.” Tebas responded by saying there had been “no increase” in his wage.
Was this anything new?
Perez’s speech was as always aimed at his primary audience — the 1,700 Real Madrid vote-holding socios (or members) present and the club’s millions of supporters around the world.
The canny politician would have known that railing against how Tebas has “repeatedly taken actions against Real Madrid” would go down well with those present or following from home.
Perez’s complaints about La Liga’s CVC deal will have been familiar both to them and to long-time La Liga watchers, while his problems with Spain’s ‘sports law’ (ley deporte) and La Liga’s new TV broadcast initiatives have also been publicly aired before.
From Madrid’s perspective, all of these are examples of La Liga “appropriating our economic assets” — ie, financially benefiting from things that Perez considers Madrid own and should profit from themselves.
Perez embellished his speech with criticism of the financial relationship between La Liga and its clubs — for instance, with the league organising overseas friendlies, and joint marketing campaigns.
Was it a surprise Tebas hit back?
No, it was not a surprise. La Liga’s president is often very quick to defend himself from any slights, real or imagined, and generally seems to enjoy any chance for a social media ding-dong.
Tebas immediately posted on Twitter with a jab back at Perez for “lies” about many things, including any pay rise, and accused the Madrid president of having a “messianic” personality complex and wanting to control everything.
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La Liga also later added a longer, more formal statement, which claimed that Perez’s words were “riddled with falsehoods” and “biased and unrealistic”. La Liga denied there was a lack of transparency and democracy within its organisation, saying that if Madrid were not involved in decision making it was because for years they had opted out of participating in its workings.
The statement also included more personal barbs at Perez — including an attempt to link him with the now disgraced former Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales, and pointing to similarities between the text of Saturday’s speech and the wording of critical articles against La Liga often published in certain Spanish publications.
La Liga denies it acts against the interests of Real Madrid and claims that the current leadership and executives at the club continuously undermine the league’s attempt to grow and promote the competition.
It says that Real Madrid are often the only team to vote against “assembly resolutions”, which aim to maximise “the commercial value of the rights, especially audiovisual rights, as well as the growth of the competition at a global level”.
La Liga adds that Perez has omitted that Madrid’s complaints against the CVC deal have been rejected three times by the Spanish courts and they point out that the project is voluntary for any promoted club.
It denies Perez’s claims about the sports law, saying La Liga had “adopted a defensive position of preserving the current Sports Law model, in the face of amendments and proposals pushed personally by Florentino Perez, for his sole benefit and to the detriment of the interests of the rest of the clubs”.
Where does the dispute stem from?
The dispute between Tebas and Perez goes right back to when Tebas was elected La Liga president in 2013, with a mandate to centralise its TV broadcast revenues.
This meant more money for the majority of smaller clubs who had supported Tebas for the job, but left Madrid (and Barcelona) feeling they were no longer being rewarded for generating the majority of interest in the league.
So, through recent years, La Liga and its two biggest member clubs have been involved in regular rows in the media and in court. This continued through Madrid and Barcelona pushing the aborted Super League launch in April 2021, and neither joining the ‘La Liga Boost’ partnership announced later that year with CVC.
CVC €2bn deal, what it means for La Liga and why Real and Barcelona are against it
This long-running conflict between individual and collective rights was again played out during a lobbying battle before the passing of Spain’s sports law late last year.
In the end, the legislation’s wording gave Tebas more freedom from intervention by Rubiales and the federation, while not harming Perez’s continuing fight against UEFA for a European Super League.
The issue of centralised-versus-individual club commercial rights was fudged by the politicians, who failed to come down on one side or the other. This has meant more legal and PR battles right up to and including the claims and counterclaims in Saturday’s speech from Perez and the rebuttal from La Liga, who said the claims on commercial rights were “in line with an intentional hindering of the growth of the competition”.
How do Real Madrid see their relationship with La Liga?
The views Perez expressed in his speech are shared by the Real Madrid board. They see Tebas’ power as coming from other La Liga clubs who they perceive to have been helped economically at the cost of Madrid’s revenues.
There is also significant anger because several executives were informed of how Tebas met with different clubs, including Barcelona, behind Madrid’s back to try to reach an agreement with CVC. At La Liga headquarters, there is now an acceptance that Madrid will always reject their new proposals or initiatives, and executives at La Liga and Madrid are well aware their bosses are unlikely to agree to anything the other proposes.
‘Clubs knew it needed to change’: Tebas talks foreign investment and La Liga’s strict financial rules
Madrid have similar ongoing disputes with the RFEF and with UEFA. Their complaints with the federation stem from refereeing appointments and performances, while they are unhappy with UEFA for what they see as its weak application of financial fair play (FFP) rules and sanctions, which Real say allows clubs run by nation-states unlimited room to work with.
Where are Barcelona now in all this?
A few years back, Barcelona, under president Joan Laporta, were firmly allied with Perez in his battles against Tebas, most obviously with Laporta firmly backing the Super League and remaining involved even after most other clubs publicly distanced themselves.
The situation has become more difficult to discern over time, especially with La Liga having accepted some of the Catalan club’s ever more creative ways of signing players, despite their continuing deep financial issues.
The ‘Caso Negreira’ refereeing scandal has also caused friction between the Clasico teams — Laporta was angered by Perez deciding Madrid should take a legal position as a ‘damaged party’ in the investigation into Barca’s alleged payments to the former vice-president of the referees’ committee.
And Perez finished Saturday’s speech with a clear dig at Laporta — by appropriating the ‘‘sociological Madridismo” phrase recently coined by the Barca president to describe how “certain media, political circles and sectors of sport” in Spain always defend Madrid’s interests.
Perez told Madrid socios that ‘‘sociological Madridismo” did exist, but said it was something “universal” as “Madrid is the best club in the world and the best club throughout history”, and recalled their record 14 European Cup/Champions League trophies. Cue more thunderous applause from his audience.
What might be different this time?
The most interesting ‘new’ element in Perez’s speech on Saturday came right after he had spent 15 minutes attacking Tebas and La Liga.
In previous years, Perez’s assembly speech introduced themes or ideas that only became fully clear after later events. For instance, the April 2021 Super League launch was clearly foreshadowed in the previous December’s assembly speech.
This year’s tantalising potential teaser was the announcement of a new “organisational structure that protects and secures the financial assets that belong to Real Madrid and to each and every one of our members in the face of any threat of expropriation”.
It could be that, in time, this teaser becomes the most important element of Perez’s 2023 assembly speech, rather than the more headline-grabbing spectacle of yet another public row with his old antagonist Tebas.
(Top photos: Getty Images)