Millionaire Spanish Soccer Idols Draw Ire on World Cup Loss

Angel de Castro’s newspaper kiosk in northern Madrid is draped in red-and-yellow flags and scarves he’s sure he can’t sell now that Spain’s World Cup is gone.

“The economic blow is great because what am I going to do with all this merchandise -- I won’t be selling a single banner or shirt today,” said de Castro in an interview. “It’s disappointing because these players earn more in a year than a Spanish worker earns in 40 and they didn’t really do well enough or look hungry enough.”

Spain’s ouster from the World Cup last night in Rio de Janeiro with its team’s 2-0 defeat by Chile has ended the Iberian nation’s six-year dominance of world soccer. The winning streak that included the 2010 World Cup and a brace of European championship titles for “La Roja” was interrupted by a humiliating 5-1 loss to Holland earlier.

The country’s ejection from the World Cup comes as King Felipe VI is being sworn in today in a show of royal pomp that contrasts with the country’s economic reality as it crawls out of a recession that has left a quarter of Spaniards without jobs. The added gloom brought on by the soccer setback is rapidly turning into bitterness directed at the millionaire stars of “La Seleccion,” as the national team is called.

In Montecarmelo, among the barrios of apartment blocks that sprouted on Madrid’s periphery during the country’s housing boom, the mood this morning was somber, with a tinge of anger.

“The impression that they gave was that they wanted to go on holiday while the rest of Spain is trying hard to work,” said David Colas, a bartender in El Pescador, a Montecarmelo bar specializing in seafood. “I don’t think ordinary Spanish people can really relate to the players at all -- that’s my opinion.”

Millionaire Players

Since its victory in the 2008 European Championships, Spaniards have basked in the glory of their team, many of whose players hail from Real Madrid and Barcelona, soccer’s two richest clubs.

The victory bonus of 720,000 euros ($982,000) per player for repeating their World Cup success was double those offered to Germany or Brazil, broadcaster Antena 3 reported.

Real Madrid and Barcelona, with combined annual sales of more than 1 billion euros, have made multi-millionaires of top players such as Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, signed by Real from Manchester United for 80 million pounds ($136 million) in 2009. The Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, who came off the substitutes’ bench to play for Spain last night against Chile, earns $21 million, according to Forbes.

The defeat to Chile made Spain the first champion in the 84-year history of the competition to exit before playing its last group game. Also, its June 13 loss to the Netherlands was the worst start to a title defense for a World Cup holder.

Golden Age

It was hard for Vicente del Bosque, the team’s coach, to drop ageing stars such as goalkeeper Iker Casillas, although he should have given youth a chance in this tournament, said de Castro as he served customers buying his newspapers, trying to make sense of the team’s fall from grace.

El Mundo lamented the “end of a golden age” on its front page as it gave prominence to King Felipe’s proclamation while Mundo Deportivo, a sports newspaper, carried a picture of the defeated players under the headline “They Abdicate.”

Fans heading for home after last night’s match found it hard to conceal their disappointment at the team’s early departure from the competition hosted by Brazil.

“These are many of the same players who won in South Africa four years ago, but it didn’t look like the same team,” said Oscar Carmona, 22, a student in an interview under giant TV screens erected outside Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium.

Moving On

Spain will recover quickly from its world cup debacle if del Bosque rebuilds the team with younger players, said de Castro.

“We go from thinking we’re the best in the world one day to the very worst the next -- we Spaniards are like that,” he said. “We’ll recover.”

In El Pescador, clients nodded in agreement as Colas said Spaniards wouldn’t let their team’s catastrophe ruin their summer.

“People are going to keep enjoying their ham, their cheese and their wine -- life will go on,” he said.

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