Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

Villar with New Worlds to conquer

Por: | 14 de noviembre de 2012

Villar Costa Rica 2
It takes a lot to make the usually unflappable Vicente Del Bosque look uncomfortable before the cameras. But that is what happened last Friday when the Spanish national football coach was asked to defend the fixing of his team’s friendly game in Panama this Wednesday.

“Going to Panama shows a commitment of our country with other Spanish-speaking countries,” Del Bosque said. “We are playing on this date, just like every other team in the world. Every trip to Europe normally means we arrive home at five in the morning, without sleeping. However, when we play in the Americas, everyone says we must be tired. We are no exception - every national side is playing on this date.”

The usually ultra-sensible Del Bosque trying to say it was an advantage for his players to take two eleven hour flights in just three days, and play a game in between, showed how awkward it was for anyone to explain why Spain was yet again travelling halfway around the world to play a friendly game against a team unlikely to test them in any meaningful way. For the World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 winning coach could not say what most in the room knew - the game had more to do with filling the coffers of the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) than preparing the team for their upcoming World Cup 2014 qualifiers.

This is not an isolated incident. Since summer 2010 only four of Spain's 17 friendlies have been at home. La Roja have travelled to the USA, Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico for games which have been of limited use to the team, but brought in an estimated €20m for the RFEF. The association’s official line on these games is that as world champions it is Spain’s “obligation” to spread the game to all corners of the globe, especially those where the Spanish language is spoken, but few really buy that.

While Del Bosque has allowed some of his more senior or recently injured players to miss the game, the contract signed between the RFEF and Federación Panameña de Fútbol (FEPAFUT) mean a certain number of top players must be present, and Iker Casillas, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fábregas, Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets all made the trip. Those players chosen do not always seem very motivated by such ‘marquee’ games - Spain drew in Costa Rica earlier this year, and were hammered 4-1 in Buenos Aires in 2010, but have no choice in where or when their team plays.

They generally keep out of any public polemics - Juan Mata on Monday said he liked showing Spanish footballing culture to the world - but sometimes frustration leaks through. “The journey and the game against Panama is in the middle of the season and not everyone is delighted,” admitted Fábregas last weekend. Such complaints would likely be much louder had the players not negotiated their own healthy share of the commercial income from such games last year.

As has become customary on these trips, Villar, the coach and his players (and a large group of accompanying dignitaries and sponsors), were received by Panama president Ricardo Martinelli at his Palacio de las Garzas on the day before the game. Amid much backslapping from those in the expensive suits, and disinterested stares from those in the tracksuits, Villar took the opportunity to talk of the historical and sporting friendships between the two countries, and spoke of how the game would help the sporting development of Panama's youth.

There was unsurprisingly no discussion of the ticket prices - US$45 to US$2000 – which will likely discourage most children's attendance, or a kick-off time (16:30 local) convenient for TV viewers / companies in Spain, but not for players or supporters inside the Estadio Rommel Fernández, where the temperature will be around 30°C.

“The Spanish national team has become a machine for making money,” wrote José Félix Díaz in November and it is hard to disagree. Winning last summer’s European championships was worth over €20m in prize money, and likely more in commercial arrangements with the team's sponsors. These are good days for the previously financially troubled RFEF, a state of affairs which no doubt helped former Athletic Bilbao player Villar sail to re-election for a sixth consecutive four year term as president last February, despite allegations of irregularities in the voting process.

Meanwhile, Spain’s players get to fly across the ocean for a game they do not want to play and to smile for the cameras while meeting politicians and sponsors eager to associate themselves with sporting success. An optimist could say that at least La Roja’s players and fans could have another trophy to celebrate on the final whistle. As part of the game’s celebration of the special relationship between the peoples of Spain and Panama, the winners receive a specially designed ‘Copa V Centenario’ which is being presented to mark the 500th anniverary of the ‘discovery’ of the Pacific Ocean by Extremaduran conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa. Seriously.

The globetrotting Villar could have his eyes on a different prize. With Sepp Blatter set to finally step down as FIFA president in 2015, the Basque – a UEFA vice-president since 1992 and FIFA VP since 2000 – looks a good bet to benefit in the subsequent reshuffle of football's top jobs. This week's trip, and his ongoing careful cultivation of Latin American football associations, is therefore good politics, as well as good business. If Del Bosque and his all conquering players have to take a few flights, play a few games and answer a few awkward questions, well them's the breaks.

El País

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