There's something of a void at Real Madrid - a void that is usually filled by a shiny new signing, but things are being held up at the Bernabeu, writes Tim Stannard...
The last time Deportivo la Coruna were relegated they managed to bounce back, but this time it might be different. Tim Stannard reports on Spain's dramatic final day...
Here's a head-scratching, brain-busting puzzle to start the week: what do Albert Luque, a travel agent and an over-generous restaurant in La Coruña all have in common?
Too obscure? Chuck in the Spanish tax authorities, a couple of banks, football clubs scattered across the globe and a diverse bunch of possibly poverty-stricken players and the answer becomes much clearer. All of these form part of a group of 212 creditors owed a reported total of €93m by Deportivo, according to a list handed over to a local judge.
In one of the least surprising events of the year so far in Spain, Deportivo went into voluntary administration after a decade of writing IOUs to suppliers, promising to send cheques in the post and getting their mitts on footballers without either paying for them or getting round to keeping up with salaries or fees for image rights. It's a huge sum of money that realistically can never be paid back in full, hence the move to go into administration with the intention that the club's debt can be restructured, reduced or perhaps even written off in some cases.
€40m is owed to the Spanish tax authorities, €34.4m to regional banks in Galicia, €2.1m to Albert Luque for 15% allegedly owed to the footballer from the move to Newcastle in 2005 and €2m to the travel agency arm of Corte Inglés who look after the team's trips. Uruguayan side Nacional are claiming nearly a million for the sale of goalkeeper Gustavo Munúa to the Spanish club in 2003. On top of that, there's a string of payments due to Deportivo footballers, both past and present.
Massive debts to all and sundry is not an unusual occurrence in la Liga with clubs currently sitting in the top six such as Rayo Vallecano, Levante and Betis having recent experience of the administration process as well as bigger hitters such as Málaga and Valencia suffering difficult times of late and being forced to sell the family jewels. But in a similar manner to the Spanish economy, whose intrinsic problems were recognised by the government far too late to deal with effectively and efficiently, Deportivo's issues have been swept to one side with either the hope that they would all go away or perhaps a new Leo Messi would be found kicking the ball about on the beach outside la Riazor.
Local paper La Voz de Galicia, which doesn't have the most harmonious relationship with Deportivo, places a large chunk of the blame on the club's president of 25 years, Augusto Lendoiro: 'The economic situation has been dramatic for some time. But Lendoiro managed it with a simple strategy: don't pay.' Until recently, this was an option for many teams in la Liga. However, the Spanish 'Hacienda' realised that raising income tax and VAT for individuals and businesses to punishing levels did not sit well with a strategy of allowing clubs to get away with racking up huge debts.
The death throes of Deportivo's finances arrived in November when the tax authorities held back all of the club's income. A court recently overturned this limitation, but it forced Lendoiro to come clean about who and how much was owed, hence the decision to seek shelter in administration.
Matters are hardly looking much better for the club on the pitch either, with the side bottom of the table after just three victories from 21 in la Liga after recent promotion from la Segunda. That one-season spell in the badlands came after a remarkable period in the top flight which saw the glorious days of Super Depor and a five-year run between 2000 and 2004 that saw the league title being won followed by two second and two third-placed finishes.
Just before the end of 2012, the manager who had led Deportivo back up to la Primera as champions, José Luis Oltra, was sacked. Remarkably for such a trigger-happy country, the coach was the first to be fired at the club since 1997. The manager chosen to take over was Portuguese coach Domingos Paciencia, who was behind the recent success of Sporting Braga.
The incoming manager admitted that, "When they invited me to come, I knew perfectly well it was the hardest challenge of my life." The 44-year-old is dealing with a squad that is not without talent, but is suffering from low morale and self-esteem, as to be expected with so many off-the-field problems. Nevertheless, club captain Manuel Pablo denies financial issues are having any effect on the squad. "We are not here because of not being paid, but for not playing well. It's easy." The full-back was speaking after a meeting with the Spanish Players' Union, who informed them of their rights and how to reclaim unpaid salaries.
Despite these distractions, Paciencia has been able to have some positive effects with Depor's defence already looking stronger. The side's first two games under the new manager produced four points, but Saturday night's clash against visiting Valencia saw how everything seems to be running against the team. A second goal from Riki had seen Depor taking a 2-1 lead against the Mestalla men but a sending-off for defender Silvio allowed a Valencia comeback which was completed deep into injury time to hand an 11th league defeat to the Galicians.
Despite a dire-looking situation for Deportivo, there are positives to be gained. The team is by no means a bad one and the side is only four points from safety. Just seven rounds ago, Espanyol looked done and dusted at the bottom but are now sitting in 15th, four from safety.
Nonetheless, these are depressing days at Deportivo and it's not as even the club's portly president can eat or drink away his sorrows anymore. One of the creditors is the 'El Manjar' restaurant, who are owed €107,000, with La Voz de Galicia estimating that around €450,000 was blown in late-night meetings at the venue over a six-year period. Owner José Manuel Crespo maintained that Depor was still 'a very good client' despite the outstanding tab. Perhaps that's an indication of how this fine club got into such a mess in the first place.
Round 21 Results
Celta Vigo 1-1 Real Sociedad
Levante 2-1 Valladolid
Deportivo 2-3 Valencia
Zaragoza 0-0 Espanyol
Real Madrid 4-0 Getafe
Rayo Vallecano 3-0 Betis
Barcelona 5-1 Osasuna
Athletic Bilbao 3-0 Atlético Madrid
Mallorca 2-3 Málaga
Sevilla v Granada (Monday)
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter