‘The Premier League has fallen asleep in the race to match Barcelona and Real Madrid’

first_imgThis feature appears in the current edition of Sport magazine. Download the free iPad app from the Apple Newsstand, and follow on twitter @sportmagukAt a few minutes to five on Saturday, Luis Suarez will join Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and a wealth of international talent in the tunnel at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.The camera flashes that normally illuminate such an occasion won’t be quite as dazzling because of the early kick-off time, which is convenient for the Asian television market and could help swell the global television audience for El Clasico beyond the 400 million recorded in March.Four hours later, to considerably less fanfare, promoted Eibar will kick off their home game against Granada in front of about 5,000 fans at their Ipurua Municipal Stadium.Eibar’s record signing is just €75,000, compared to the £75m Barcelona spent on Suarez in the summer. While El Clasico features the most expensive players in the world, a number of clubs in La Liga are operating under severe financial constraints. But, we ask, is Real Madrid and Barcelona’s dominance harming the rest of the league? 4 4 4 “There are two answers to this question,” says Spanish and European football journalist Lee Roden. “It’s always tempting to offer one side of the argument because it appeals to romantics, rather than to look at both. Evidently, their financial dominance has hurt the other teams in terms of being unable to keep their best players, and the debt the other sides have taken on in order to even stay afloat. At the same time, though, what that has done is it has forced other clubs to be more inventive in their transfer strategies. Sevilla are a perfect example: they spent a fraction of what Barcelona, Real Madrid and certainly Premier League clubs do, yet they consistently find diamonds in the rough, extract maximum value from them, sell them, then replace the stock. In many ways you could argue that some clubs have been better for that – they have been forced to develop good, intelligent scouting as they can’t just pay on a whim for big names.”Atletico Madrid are another example. They managed to break a nine-year run of Real Madrid and Barcelona titles last season thanks to the astute management of Diego Simeone, despite losing their best players: Sergio Aguero, Falcao and Diego Costa are among the high-profile departures in recent seasons.Strength in depthThe inequality is worsened because of the way television rights deals are negotiated separately in Spain, instead of collectively – as in England. This means that, in Spanish football, the bigger clubs are able to command a much larger slice of the pie.Sky Sports pundit Guillem Balague believes the Spanish league is a lot stronger than it gets credit for, and that the other clubs can compete despite the financial imbalance. “There are too many cliches pushed in the direction of La Liga,” he says. “Of course it’s not ideal and of course everybody will want a better distribution of the money. But it’s not as bad as people say. Sevilla won the Europa League, Atletico Madrid won La Liga (below) and went all the way to the Champions League final. Just because Real Madrid and Barcelona are ahead, it doesn’t automatically mean that everybody else is not competing.” “The financial inequality has undoubtedly helped strengthen Spanish football’s name on the world stage,” says Roden. “Barcelona and Real Madrid’s dominance in Europe over the past decade or so has been facilitated by the amount of money they make domestically.”The dominance of the Spanish giants is making waves in England. Look at the most high-profile transfers in the Premier League over the past few windows. Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez departed for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, while the biggest signings for Premier League clubs were players deemed surplus to requirements by the same two clubs: Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Angel Di Maria and Cesc Fabregas.Buying votesThis could be considered a direct result of the way Barcelona and Real Madrid are operated. Fan ownership is held up as a model that the English game should seek to emulate, but it can lead to transfer behaviour just as extravagant as under a single owner. Both clubs are owned by the socios – members who get to cast a vote for the club president. This is usually a hotly contested affair preceded by months of promises and debates. Those promises often centre around transfers – it’s in the best interests of the incoming or incumbent president to promise and deliver on big-money signings. “Both teams need to be competing at the maximum level, otherwise people will vote with their feet,” says Roden.Real Madrid have long had a policy of signing the biggest names in world football – this summer it was Colombian World Cup star James Rodriguez and German midfielder Toni Kroos (pictured together below). But, with the club’s debt rising to almost £500m, players need to be moved on – hence the departures of Ozil and the popular Di Maria. 4 ‘The Premier League has fallen asleep in the race to match Barcelona and Real Madrid’ “One trick that Alex Ferguson, and even Arsene Wenger, taught everybody is that you should sell players just before their level drops,” says Balague. “They felt with Ozil and with Di Maria they could still get good money and continue their business model, which is of course to have new faces, the brightest and best from the World Cup. Florentino Perez [Madrid’s president] has always felt that Galacticos is the way forward. And, if you consider where Real Madrid were before Perez arrived to what it is now, you have to say his business plan is working.”Often lauded for bringing through academy talent, Barcelona seem to be going the same way with their recent signings. “Barcelona getting Luis Suarez goes a little bit against what they’ve been doing in previous years,” says Balague. “Because the board is weak they feel they need to impress the fans. One way of doing that has always been to use the money you’ve got to get a player like Suarez.”Settling for the players Real Madrid and Barcelona no longer want is a chastening experience for English clubs, who have only themselves to blame, according to Balague. “I just feel that the Premier League has been falling asleep for a while,” he says. “In 2007, 2008, 2009 it was wonderful – the highest level, the best players and the best coaches, but they’ve fallen asleep. They’re still giants. I don’t think they’ve been affected just because Real Madrid and Barcelona have taken some of their players. They should just do better with the money they have.”Perhaps the chairmen and managers tuning in for El Clasico and wondering how to compete with the resources of Real and Barcelona could learn more from watching Eibar.last_img

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