'Beckham law' a far cry from Spanish football's austere times these days

Andy Mitten says most Spanish players would be content to pay the government's higher taxes, but they would like their wages first.

When David Beckham moved to Real Madrid in 2003, he benefited from a generous and specially implemented tax rate. Spain was Europe's booming economy, but it was a relatively new democracy playing catch up and did not attract enough global premium talents, captains of industry or icons of sport.

A 24 per cent tax rate, given the name "the Beckham law", changed that. It was only applicable to outsiders, but Spain could afford it and saw it as a loss leader. Not now.

Spain's public finances are dreadful, the country has the highest unemployment rate in Europe at over 20 per cent and many of those attracted by the generous tax rates have left or are leaving. The new government has made cut backs and needs to raise taxes, with anyone earning more than €300,000 (Dh1.4 million) having to pay 53 per cent.

That is 90 per cent of Primera Liga players. The footballers do not like it, but what can they do? Go to England's Premier League, where the tax rate is only marginally better?

Or go to a second-rate, cash rich league which massages an already healthy bank balance, but shatters any credibility as a footballer?

The public mood in Spain is not sympathetic to overpaid millionaires this time either. Of course there is a flip side - some players have not been paid their full salaries by their clubs, most of which are heavily in debt. They would be content to pay the tax, but they would like their wages first.