Andy Mitten

Liga’s lesser lights struggle to compete

Andy Mitten

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The headlines in Spain following the usually frantic transfer deadline day were not of new signings for Spanish teams, but of a Spanish player moving between English clubs.

Fernando Torres is a World Cup winner so he remains big news in his homeland. He'd been linked to Barca where president Sandro Rosell is a big admirer, but where would he fit in?

And also to Madrid, but how could a lifelong Atleti fan play at the Bernabeu? Instead, he went for Chelsea and the sight of a few oddball Liverpool fans burning their Torres shirts made headlines in Iberia.

There was little else to report about Spanish clubs paying to bring in players. Second division Girona signed Lionel Messi's cousin Emanuel Biancucchi and the Barca B striker Ruben moved to Blackburn.

He was honest enough to admit that of the main reasons was money - or a relative lack of it in Spain compared to England. Barca B play in Spain's second division and their players are typically on up to €150,000 a year. They can earn two or three times as much playing in England's second tier, hence the influx of Spaniards at Swansea.

If you take away the big two, wages in Spain fall away sharply. Valencia used to be able to enter the ring with the heavyweights. The disparities have always been huge, but in 2007 their annual budget was €120m to Barça's €290m. Valencia's budget has stayed the same, while Barça's is €450 million and Madrid's even more.

Where once Valencia kept hold of their players and won the league as they did twice in the noughties, now they sell them to Barcelona and Manchester City. A huge disparity in television income received by clubs is one reason.

Whereas the English Premier league enjoys a collective agreement, in Spain Barca and Madrid get the lion's share - and then the tiger's, cheetah's and jaguar's share on top. This season Blackpool will get more domestic television money than Valencia, Champions League finalists in 2000 and 2001.

It's one reason why there was a 25 point-gap between Madrid in second and Sevilla in third last term, a statistic which did the credibility of the Primera Division no good and had critics comparing it to Scotland, calling it the 'SPLiga'.

The clubs have recognised the problem and a fairer agreement has been agreed by most, but it's still not that fair and clubs will still have to sell players to stay afloat.
Espanyol boast a fine young largely home-grown side this season, yet they sold two of their most promising defenders at the weekend to Milan and Napoli. It brought in a much needed €10 million for a club heavily in debt after building their new stadium, but left fans furious.

Victor Ruiz is a Barcelona born 22-year-old who had risen through the youth ranks. Didac Vila, six months younger and also Barcelona born did the same. Over 95 per cent of Espanyol fans polled were against their transfers.

They've seen their team rise to fifth in the table and have genuine hopes of a European place. Hopes now seriously damaged which leave some to question why they support their club, if they will only ever sell their best young players.

At least the departing youngsters hope to have a serious shot at first-team football in Italy.

Smaller clubs have always sold players to bigger, richer clubs, but never has the gap been so pronounced as now in Spain. It means that emerging talents are picked off before they've had chance to develop and fans have no chance to see their home-grown talents blossom.

Cantabrian youngster Sergio Canales joined Real Madrid last summer from his local side Racing Santander. Canales started 32 games for Racing last season and was a joy to watch as he demonstrated a technique that belied his youth.

The fans took their local young playmaker to their hearts... and then he was sold. He's started just one league game for Madrid this season. Would he have not been better off staying and improving at Racing?

And as much as people associate Spanish strikers called Fernando with Torres, there are as many people in Spain who now consider Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente as the country's best player not at a club which regularly appears in the Champions League.

He's the star of an Athletic side who are having a good season and could finish in a European place - a fine achievement for a club who still only fields Basques. Yet barely a day goes by when he's not linked to Madrid or another giant, some of whom stockpile footballers seemingly for the sake of it in their 24 men squads.

It's Llorente's life, his career and his choice what he does. It's understandable if he wants Champions League football or more money, only natural that he wants to play in bigger stadiums alongside better footballers. Aged 25, he's spent more than enough time at San Mames since making his first team debut six years ago.

But wouldn't it be wonderful if he stayed where he is loved and took Athletic to better things? Or are the days of the local hero long gone and will he follow the other striking Fernando and move on?

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