Monday, October 28, 2013

Spanish politics; Demolition damage; The Banks; and Ferguson v. Beckham.

Spain's President Rajoy has labelled the recent decision of the EU Court of Human Rights in respect of ETA prisoners as "Wrong and unjust". However, his government will respect it, he says - unlike the many thousands of people who turned out to protest against it in Madrid at the weekend. Thanks to our Spy in Congress, we know that this demonstration was so vigorous that the few politicians who attended it were in fear of their lives. Though we wouldn't know this from the TV reports, he/she says, as these were 'self censored'.

The Local has reported that, despite the anger felt by many, there's no sign of the growth of far-right-wing parties here in Spain. I can't help wondering if this is because their natural constituents are easily accommodated within the existing right-of-centre PP party. Especially if they're members of Opus Dei.

Spain's image continues to be damaged by reports in the British press - pre-eminently The Times - about house demolitions down in Andalucía. As the paper said of one couple yesterday:- "They could be forgiven for thinking they had invested their savings in a cowboy country". Yes, well. The astonishing reaction of one spokesman was as defiant as it was stupid:- “The demolition does not damage the image of Andalucía. It would be more damaging to question the legal authority of a court,” he said. Before falling off his chair laughing. Or was that the audience?

Incidentally, according to Eurostat, Andalucía is now the poorest region in Europe. Worse than Rumania or Albania. And it's a leading candidate for the highest unemployment in the EU. So, terrorising existing and potential property buyers is just what it needs. Roll on another BBC exposé.

Spain may or may not have just emerged from a 2-4 year recession but her main banks (Santander and CaixaBank) are certainly doing well, both having just announced a major rise in profits. So, how are things in the banking community at large? Well, it's certainly a lot smaller than it was back when President Zapatero risibly told us it was stronger than any other country's. Against the 50 lenders then, there are now only 12. Some of them have gone bust, some of them have been merged into one dubious entity (Bankía) and some of them have been taken over by larger fish. And most of them have got shut of bad assets into Spain's 'toxic' bank, Sareb, which has become, in the process, Spain's largest estate agent(realtor).

Inevitably, the survivors of this hurricane are shutting all the branches that were feverishly opened back in the glory days, when you just needed to set up a few tellers and a couple of front-of-house 'advisers' to make a profit. As you'd expect in a severe recession after a phoney property boom, they're still lumbered with bad debts. They're not lending to either people or businesses(the credit crunch), they've increased all their charges(usually stealthily) and they're giving pitiful rates of interest to faithful customers. So, it's an industry that's gone from everything for anyone to nothing for all, despite billions in taxpayer money to sustain it. But, anyway, I guess this hatch-battened approach helps to account for the recent profit-increase reports. Could any other industry get away with this?

Here in Galicia, we used to have 2 large caixas, one based in Vigo and the other in La Coruña. First they were merged into one caixa and then this became a real bank, which had to be rescued by the government. As this is still non-viable, it's on the block and, as I've reported, we now wait to see whether it'll be taken over by a domestic foreigner(Cataluña's Caixa) or by a real foreigner.

So much for incompetence, how about corruption? Well, I'm looking into it . . .

Finally . . . Two of my favourite football writers have laid into Sir Alex Ferguson this weekend, after the publication of his 2nd autobiography. Here's John Carlin's in yesterday's El País and below is Simon Barnes' column from yesterdays Times. I can't just cite it because of the paywall. Some of you, at least, will enjoy it.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s new autobiography is out this week, and it’s certainly made its splash. He writes with contempt of an awful lot of people, among them David Beckham, concluding with the worst sin of all: “David thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson.
There is no doubt about that in my mind.”

Perhaps he did, but if so he was right. Beckham is bigger than Ferguson in very many ways. Here are just ten of them.

1 Beckham is a player:
Football is about players. Sport could do without anyone except athletes. All coaches, all managers, all administrators, no matter how eminent, are by definition secondary — that is to say, smaller than the people who do the actual sport. At the Olympic Games last year we celebrated Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott and Mo Farah ahead of Toni Minichiello, Dave Brailsford and Alberto Salazar. At Wimbledon this year we celebrated Andy Murray ahead of Ivan Lendl. It’s never the coach out there throwing punches.

In the same way, people used to talk about Sir Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; actually, it’s Shakespeare’s. Directors are subordinate to playwrights, just as publishers are subordinate to poets. Who matters more, T..S. Eliot or Faber & Faber? Doers are always bigger than talkers.

2 Beckham brought joy to the nation:
His goal against Greece in 2001, the one that secured a 2-2 draw and meant England had qualified for the World Cup finals of the next year, was one of the great sporting moments in terms of its emotional impact on England. It had all the sweet, crazy drama that football can supply, the swing from failure to glory inside a single second. The people who bring us that kind of almost ludicrous joy are very rare and you can’t do it from the dugout.

3 Beckham is much richer than Ferguson:
And that just might have something to do with Ferguson’s continuing resentment. The Sunday Times Sports Rich List this year puts Ferguson’s fortune at £34.million, Beckham’s at £165.million. The difference would have been far more marked when Ferguson and Beckham fell out in 2003. Beckham’s phenomenal commercial success was — and remains — an affront to many in football. It can be hard to boss a man who can buy you out without really noticing.

4 Beckham never cost Manchester United £500 million:
It was Ferguson’s desire to make a financial killing that led to the Rock Of Gibraltar affair. His feud with John Magnier and J..P. McManus over the ownership of the racehorse with that name prompted these men to sell their shares in Manchester United to the Glazers, and that changed the club. The Glazers’ strategy was to borrow money for the purchase and then get the club to pay the interest. The cost of this has been estimated at half a billion.

Beckham’s contribution to United is all on the plus-side of the ledger: £24.5 million for his transfer to Real Madrid and incalculable sums in worldwide sales of shirts and other bric-a-brac. The Glazers are among the few people to whom Ferguson has been consistently and publicly loyal.

5 Beckham has never indulged in public feuds:
A series of mean-spirited, life-denying feuds have defined Ferguson’s career. It’s not enough for him to be right; someone else must be wrong and must be punished. His pathetic seven-year sulk with the BBC made him and his club look as small as homunculi. Ferguson has also feuded with Jaap Stam, Arsène Wenger, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Kevin Keegan, Gordon Strachan, the Premier League, Rafael Benítez, referees and journalists without number, and on and on.

Beckham is another of Ferguson’s feudees, and that feud is pretty well entirely one-sided. Even now, Beckham prefers to hold back.

6 Beckham does contrition:
Ferguson has never admitted a fault in his life. That is the core of his method. Hilariously he castigates Roy Keane for his refusal to back down. Beckham is alleged to have had a bit of an extramarital slip-up when alone during his days in Spain, the result of a rare strategic error from Victoria. His response in the aftermath was to shave off his hair — Beckham uses the language of haircuts to communicate with his public — and go remorsefully back to his family. It was a grand and unambiguous public mea culpa. Not a concept with which Ferguson has ever been familiar.

7 Beckham is loyal:
Ferguson’s delight in trashing people with whom he has achieved great things is ugly and demeaning. Such behaviour makes a man a moral pygmy.
Keane, for a time, was the on-pitch leader of Manchester United; he carried Ferguson’s will into the thick of the action. I was at Old Trafford when the force of Keane’s will toppled the Arsenal Invincibles in the autumn of 2004 on an afternoon of shattering intensity.

Such a partnership requires a certain amount of acknowledgment, not to say gratitude. Beckham has never shown similar disloyalty to colleagues and former colleagues.

8 Beckham does self-mockery:
Beckham, along with Victoria, agreed to be “interviewed” by Ali G for Comic Relief in 2001. Both were teased to a quite shocking degree. “And is you little boy speaking whole sentences yet? And what about Brooklyn?” They both giggled helplessly throughout. Then, a promotional video for the London Olympics bid featured Beckham scratching his head in bewildered fashion over a crossword. Beckham is a good sport. I don’t think I need to labour the implicit comparison here.

9 You can always count on Beckham:
If you want a good deed done for the nation, Beckham is always ready to stand up and do it. He played a huge role in winning the right to stage the Olympic Games for London. He was there in Singapore in a double act with Tony Blair — each man of equal value — to support the bid and clinch the vote. He was there in Beijing kicking footballs at the Olympic Closing Ceremony. Four years later he carried the torch along the river and delivered it to the Opening Ceremony of the London Games. Beckham is always up for it. Ferguson, who has lived and made his fortune in England, makes antediluvian jests about becoming England manager to drag them
down below Scotland.

10 Beckham has made football a nicer place:
Football is traditionally a parodic macho world, homocentric and homophobic. Beckham rejected this oppressive orthodoxy. His femininity was celebrated by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. He became a gay icon. He likes the company of women and has no problems with successful and powerful women; au contraire. He has broadened football’s moral horizons. Ferguson just doesn’t get this.

Ferguson has been a phenomenally successful manager and his achievements are part of football history. Any great manager can make a great team. Ferguson has made many, one after another, a remarkable achievement by any standards save the very highest. (What? Only two Champions Leagues?)

When you write an autobiography at the end of a long career, you leave a record of your achievement and also a summing-up of your moral legacy.

Ferguson has done that all right. The Beckham issue is at the heart of it. Ferguson has made quite clear who is the bigger man.


Sierra said...

Further to yesterday's comment, another Galician bank to be ruled by "foreigners":

Colin Davies said...

1. Foreign, as in Andalucia. Bad.
2. Foreign, as in Cataluña. Worse.
3. Foreign, as in American. Worst.

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