La Pobla de Mafumet is a tiny town of just 2,000 inhabitants, situated an hour south of Barcelona and a few miles inland from the coastal town of Tarragona. Its football team was founded in 1953, and pottered along unspectacularly for 50 years in the lower reaches of Catalonia’s regional leagues. However eight years after a key decision by the club’s directors, the case of Pobla de Mafumet CF again raises huge doubts about the wisdom of allowing reserve sides to compete in the same football pyramid as their first teams.
Those who follow Spanish football below La Liga will already be familiar with the existence of a series of B teams at various levels of the pyramid. Next season will even feature two ‘mini clásicos’ for the first time in sixteen years, with Real Madrid Castilla’s promotion as Segunda B champions ensuring that they join Barcelona B in Spain’s second flight.
Needless to say, neither of these teams will ever make it any further than that, regardless of how well they perform. This is because league rules state (for obvious reasons) that no club can have two teams in the same division. Recent victims of this are Villarreal B, sitting comfortably in mid table in Segunda a few weeks ago, when suddenly their first team’s exit from La Liga automatically condemned them to relegation as well.
Although not immediately apparent from their name, Pobla de Mafumet CF signed an agreement during the 2003-4 season to be the reserve side for nearby Gimnastic de Tarragona. This has been hugely beneficial for the club, so much so that last month, they earned the right to have a first ever crack at promotion to Segunda B via the end of season play offs.
There was only one problem with this; Nastic were meanwhile having a miserable campaign in Segunda, and with five games remaining were twelve points adrift of safety. Relegation to Segunda B was thus a near certainty, meaning that Pobla could not go up even if they managed to win through three rounds of competition. Nevertheless for reasons best known to themselves, the club decided not to withdraw from the knockout phase, and no one insisted that they do so.
Over the last month, the 72 clubs who qualified for the play offs have been whittled down to 27. Nine have already secured promotion, whilst the other eighteen played the first leg of their finals last weekend. However right now only seventeen have any chance of going up, because Pobla de Mafumet CF are still involved, whilst Nastic’s relegation has long since been confirmed.
So what now for all concerned? Of course there is still the possibility that Pobla will lose their final against Murcian side Yeclano Deportivo, at which point the suits at Spanish football headquarters will presumably breathe a huge sigh of relief. However confusion has reigned as to the most likely eventual outcome, should the Catalans triumph. Spanish sports daily ‘Marca’ thought it knew for sure, publishing an article last week declaring that Yeclano were already up. Indeed last Monday when the draw was made, Pobla were the opponents with whom every other side wanted to be paired for that very reason.
The RFEF have since confirmed that they will decide who gets to go up, although they have conceded that they may indeed select Yeclano even if they lose the final. They have also not ruled out the possibility of awarding the place to any other team in Spain whom they deem suitable, including one of Pobla’s regular season rivals. A season in Segunda B costs a lot more than one in Tercera, but cash strapped Espanyol’s reserve team would still be one viable Catalonian alternative. They were eliminated from the play offs at the weekend, but seem likely to accept should they be offered the chance to go up anyway. What’s a few more hundred thousand euros of debt, after all?
Talking of money, the RFEF’s declaration has effectively ruled out the possibility of Pobla winning their final, but then selling their place in Segunda B. This is not unheard of in the lower reaches of Spanish football, with Andalucian champions Loja CD the latest club to be weighing up whether it would be more financially prudent to decline their promotion. However the most likely buyers in their neighbourhood, the reserve side of cash rich Malaga, have already indicated that they are not interested in such an arrangement.
The final solution to the problem may yet rest in the hands of two Segunda clubs, whose futures are looking decidedly precarious. This week it has emerged that CE Sabadell and Deportivo Guadalajara may not be able to provide the necessary financial guarantees to avoid enforced demotion to Segunda B. The likelihood is that one of them will not, and thus Nastic would win a reprieve from relegation. Pobla could therefore go up after all if they beat Yeclano, but somewhat farcically might end up waiting up to a month between the end of their season, and the final decision on whether either of the two is to be relegated.
It has to be said that the odds are still very much in favour of a Yeclano win, in which case all these hypothetical musings will ultimately be irrelevant. They lost the first leg 2-1 on Sunday in Catalonia, but their away goal means that a 1-0 win on home soil this weekend will be enough to seal victory. Nevertheless, the fact that there has been scope for so much conjecture reflects very poorly on the RFEF, and it is by no means the first offence which should be taken into consideration. Only last year they allowed the reserve teams of Tenerife and Albacete to compete in the play offs, even though the clubs’ first teams had already been relegated to Segunda B and thus promotion was impossible.
The most obvious solution to the problem would be for all reserve sides to compete in their own separate league, as is the case in nearly every other European country. However given the chaotic and autocratic manner in which Spanish football has long been run from top to bottom, nobody is expecting the powers that be to apply some much needed common sense any time soon.