La Liga transfer disparity dangerous for Spanish football

David Cartlidge 20:49 08/02/2015
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  • In the money: Atletico have recently been backed by an East Asian company.

    As many of the major leagues across Europe opened their window to January’s transfer window, Spain’s remained, in what has now become a familiar site, barely ajar. 

    – #360view: Bilbao's squad deficiencies laid brutally bare

    The signings of Lucas Silva, Enzo Perez and to a degree Martin Odegaard will be cited as evidence Spain remains active in the market, and prosperous in terms of attracting talent. The reality is however these signings remain anomalies in a market that has become a chore for clubs existing with limitations.

    And the number of which, continues to grow. The aforementioned reality is that Real Madrid will pay Martin Odegaard, a 16-year-old set for their Castilla branch, more a week than many of La Liga’s clubs contribute to a monthly salary for one of their top stars. The Norwegian may go on to have an incredible career, and he by no means should stand accountable for his earnings, but it is a deeply concerning issue in the Spanish game.

    Every transfer window that passes in Spain offers a reminder of the current situation in the country, in regards to its football. The window began early in Spain, opening on January 2, but to the chagrin of many, it closed early on January 30. Other leagues from the top bracket such as England, Italy, Germany and France all had until February 2. While some have voiced their dismay at this, it’s questionable what could’ve been done in the extra time.

    The total spend in the window came in at Dh187 million (€45m), four times more than the previous year. However, look outside Real Madrid and Valencia signings, only Dh52 million (€12.5m) was spent between every other club in La Liga – and that’s if you include Atletico Madrid’s deal for Angel Correa. Therefore Barcelona, Sevilla, Espanyol, Rayo Vallecano, Athletic Club, Getafe and Elche signed no players, with several those clubs suffering from being under transfer bans.

    The concerns don’t stop there as 20 percent of the players brought in to the league in January were between 30 and 35, while more than 50 percent were out of contract. Of the 34 deals that were completed, just five were for a fee if you include Correa’s move. To work the Spanish market these days, you have to be extremely astute. The resources aren’t there for everyone however, and building your squad to challenge for Europe, or simply getting that key player to help stave off relegation, has become more difficult. Granada, in their tie up with Quique Pina and his family of clubs, are showing their relationship within remains important given their seven deals.

    It’s something the powers-that-be in Spanish football frown upon, just like they do Peter Lim arriving at Valencia, and Chinese investment into Atleti. But the question is, what else is there if you wish to compete? Even then Lim’s involvement with Valencia is a delicate subject, giving the shifting of players through his Meriton offshoot. Until they are bought out, Valencia fans will not sleep in the knowledge their club is a beacon of security.

    Gabriel Paulista (r) left La Liga for the Premier League while Real Madrid can buy stars such as Gareth Bale.

    It’s a depressing picture that was further emphasised by high-profile departures. Villarreal, currently flying high in La Liga, competing in the Europe League and eyeing a Champions League spot, were victim to a bid for one of their star players. Gabriel Paulista left for Arsenal, and the club could do little about it. His replacement was Eric Bailly from Espanyol, bought for half of Gabriel’s price as the ‘sell high, buy low’policy continued. Villarreal have been there before, and will be braced for it again this summer. Who expects Luciano Vietto or Matteo Musacchio to stay another season, even if Champions League football is attained? The money is simply too good to turn down, and the majority of it comes from England.

    Malaga meanwhile fared no better. They were forced into losing both Roque Santa Cruz and, after the window shut, Antunes. More startling was Raul Albentosa joining Championship outfit Derby, despite being with Eibar. Swapping La Liga for England’s second tier has become the norm however, with several players making the move in recent seasons. Oriol Riera and Jota are just two names to pitch up in less glamorous English surroundings.

    The appeal of England with its potential Premier League place, a higher level of competitiveness and better salaries on offer, make a comprehensive argument. Take Leicester City, newly promoted and well embroiled in a relegation dogfight; Andrej Kramarić set them back a figure of Dh48 million (€11.5m) – the entire season budget for the likes of Eibar and Rayo Vallecano. UD Las Palmas, current promotion favourites in Segunda, won’t break Dh4.2 million (€1m) in spending if they achieve promotion. Can you say the same for those in England’s Championship? Certainly not.

    Noise is constantly being made about a potential switch in the structure of TV rights, but that’s all it is. Noise. There has been barely no movement in a deal that would bring parity, and see teams like Rayo, currently earning Dh75 million (€18m) a season, come closer to Barcelona and Real Madrid’s staggering Dh582 million (€140m) and rising.

    It’s the primary reason why loans, and free transfers, have become the currency of La Liga. And also why clubs are more susceptible than ever to bids for their key players. Teams are not only fighting for scraps, they are too, in danger of becoming scraps themselves.