MADRID - One year after Spain celebrated its World Cup triumph, its national soccer league is beset by debt, mismanagement and bankruptcies.
Twenty-two Spanish clubs have gone into bankruptcy protection since lower-league team Las Palmas started the trend in 2004. On Friday, Racing Santander became the sixth insolvent club in this season's 20-team top division, which opens Aug. 21.
Several club directors, financial experts and soccer figures agreed on a number of factors that have led to this trouble: large transfer fees, inflated player salaries, ego-driven owners with little fiscal responsibility and a clear divide in the distribution of television money.
While Spain celebrates the one-year anniversary of its World Cup victory in South Africa, Barcelona and Real Madrid are moving further away from the rest of the 18 teams in the league. UEFA's Fair Play rules - which demand that clubs do not spend beyond their means - can't come quick enough.
"There's a systemic problem with the structure of the league and the way it works - it's almost like financial doping," Osasuna director general Javier Gomez said . "Now when you see that half of the teams in Spain are in bankruptcy protection, it seems almost like the problem was inevitable."
The new UEFA regulations limit the ability of owners to subsidize losses incurred by paying high transfer fees and salaries, making them spend only what they earn from football-related income if they want to play in European competitions. Owners can cover losses up to $88 million over an initial three-year spell, starting in 2012.
According to consulting firm Deloitte, the Spanish league's revenue grew more following the 2009-10 season than any other league in Europe - by 8 percent to $2.3 billion). Much of that revenue was driven by Madrid and Barcelona, who grossed $1.2 billion.
But their money is doing little to help the other 18 clubs, whose poor management has been further exposed by the country's economic crisis. Only a handful are certain to pay their players regularly. Approximately $43 million in unpaid wages is still owed to more than 100 players.