Spanish football is dying.
In 2007 La Liga had one of the most exciting title races in living memory as four teams had the possibility of winning the title, even with four rounds of matches still to play. Valencia fell away towards the end and Sevilla ran out of steam en route to winning the UEFA Cup (in an all-Spanish final against Espanyol) and Copa del Rey that year.
Juande Ramos’ swashbuckling Sevilla team was dismantled due to financial pressures as Dani Alves and Seydou Keita joined Barcelona. David Villa and Raul Albiol have both departed Valencia for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. Their subsequent replacements have not been in the same class.
Since then Spain has seen the international side and domestic sides win; one World Cup, one European Championship, European under-21 Championship, two Champions Leagues, one Europa League, three European Super Cups and one World Club Cup. Not a bad haul.
Viewed from a distance everything seems to be rosy in Spain but the silverware only masks a myriad of problems. The weekend of August 20 and 21 was scheduled to see the first day of the season after the summer break but matches were called off after the authorities failed to come to an agreement over the €50m plus that is owed to the 200 or so professionals.
Clubs have got themselves into the predicament of not being able to pay their own players (and ex-players) because of the desperate attempt to try and compete with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Both clubs claim a disproportionate share of television revenue while the rest fights for whatever cash they can get their hands on. Only clubs with big fan bases and stadiums such as Valencia, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid, or well run clubs like Villareal can realistically challenge for the remaining Champions League places.
In the past two seasons Valencia have finished third, a massive 25 and 21 points behind second placed Real Madrid and after one round of fixtures this season, that trend doesn’t look like changing. Real Madrid battered Real Zaragoza 6-0 and Barcelona thumped fellow Champions League contenders Villareal 5-0.
According to reports, 22 of the 42 teams in the top divisions started this season in administration. Some clubs debts have spiralled to be hundreds of millions of Euros and have had to sell players simply to balance their books. Valencia’s debt is reported to be over €500m.
The only exception seems to be Malaga, backed by Middle-Eastern money, ex-Real Madrid and Villareal manager Manuel Pellegrini has been able to purchase the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Julio Baptista and Joaquin
One of the biggest casualties of the ‘living the dream’ syndrome, to steal a phrase from Peter Ridsdale, is Deportivo La Coruna. After winning the league in 2000 and being semi-finalists of the Champions League in 2004, SuperDepor finally succumbed to relegation after a few flirtatious years. Deportivo have become Spain’s version of Leeds United.
Spain should follow the example of Italy and England in adopting a collective TV rights deal if they want to make their product more competitive, and, in the process, more interesting.