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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Real Madrid Flirts With Relegation

MADRID -- Mounting debts, a boardroom rebellion and the threat of drastic sanctions from the Spanish league have flung mighty Real Madrid into the worst financial crisis of its 93-year history.


The biggest name in European club soccer has debts estimated at between $10.4 million and $16 million, dating from the 1993 rebuilding of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.


The club's board failed to agree to a rescue plan at a meeting last week. Seven directors stormed out, frustrated at an apparent reluctance to put the team's financial house in order.


Four days later the depleted board presented Real's 1994-95 accounts to the Spanish Football League (LFP), amid feverish speculation that the club could no longer honor its debt.


Spanish newspapers suggested the league might hand the champions an unthinkable punishment -- relegation to the largely amateur third division.


That fear evaporated on Tuesday when a meeting of the LFP finance committee demoted Sevilla and Celta but spared Real, which managed to cover the required 5 percent of next season's budget. Disaster was averted.


Sevilla, a club with a 90-year history, has played 53 seasons in the first division with its last league title in 1945-46.


It finished fifth last season and earned a berth in the UEFA Cup. The club will take part in the European competition despite the demotion.


Founded in 1923, Celta finished in the pack last season in its third consecutive campaign in the first division.


Officials from both clubs flew to Madrid on Wednesday to discuss the decision with the league, which declared the result final. However appeal through the courts is possible.


In Vigo, the Galician port that is home to Celta, 10,000 fans turned out to protest, while 25,000 marched through Seville, chanting "Sevilla to the death."


The move means that Albacete and Valladolid, which were to drop to the second division, will remain in the 20-team first division.


Two third-division teams, as yet unnamed, will be promoted to the second division.


The first division season is scheduled to start Sept. 2.


With cruel irony, Real's economic fortunes have hit rock bottom just when its team is scaling new heights. Real swept the Spanish league last season after four years behind Barcelona, and now it wants the European Cup, the trophy it owned in the 1950s when the club won it five times in a row.


Club president Raul Mendoza denied newspaper reports that Real might sell the league's leading scorer, Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano.


"Selling Zamorano for one billion pesetas [$8.0 million] would be the perfect economic solution," Mendoza said. "But it would be a sporting crime."