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Watching the pennies
A look at LaLiga

Watching the pennies

Spanish clubs, in the face of scrutiny of their accounts, are proving more resolute, unlike the English clubs that are falling like skittles

Thursday, 28 March 2024, 16:10

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Who would have thought that La Liga would emerge as a shining beacon when the world went into lockdown four years ago?

Businesses around the globe had to look how they operated, streamline expenditure and make plans for a major loss of income. Football clubs, who depend on fans walking through turnstiles, feared the very worst.

With credit to the administrators of Spanish football, they used it as a watershed moment to modernise the game. They started to subscribe to the mysterious laws of Financial Fair Play. Budgets and wage limits were set. No club, no matter how important, would be excused the scrutiny.

It has been a tough four years, but as English clubs start to fall like skittles, Spanish clubs are proving more resolute. The Premier League teams used the pandemic as an excuse to spend beyond their income. It's only now that their finances are coming under scrutiny and punishments are being handed out.

Here in Spain, clubs have needed to accept the tough legislation. FC Barcelona is the biggest hit. It was discovered that they were 1 billion euros in debt. They pleaded - but the authorities told them to start acting. Levers were pulled, costs were cut, sacrifices made. When the sums were done, they realised they couldn't afford to re-engage Lionel Messi. That was rock bottom; now, they are rebuilding responsibly.

Barcelona set an example to the rest of Europe when it comes to the importance of a strong academy. They've needed the youth system to make up a squad - exorbitant fees mean they can no longer compete in the transfer market.

Even Real Madrid have restricted their spending - they now just cherry-pick a superstar each season. Last season, it was Jude Bellingham; next summer, they intend to bring in Kylian Mbappé.

Real and Barça will benefit from modern new stadia. The reconstructed Bernabéu is almost fully finished. With a retractable roof and detachable pitch, it matches the status of the team. The Camp Nou renovation is expected to be completed sometime in 2025. The tired old stadium will be brought into the 21st century.

It's not just the Big Two who have improved the infrastructure - it's right across the board. Since 2021, clubs have been able to apply for funds from a deal with the investment company CVC. A $2 billion deal was struck in exchange for 8.2% of income as well as broadcasting and sponsorship rights for the next 50 years.

Real, Barça and Athletic Bilbao were the only clubs to oppose the partnership. The rest of the clubs in the top two tiers agreed and are beginning to prosper.

Villarreal's ground is no longer a ramshackle shoebox of a stadium. Real Sociedad have created a proper five-star-rated football stadium from what was originally an all-purpose multi-sport stadium. Both Real Betis and Sevilla will take in turns to lodge at Estadio La Cartuja whilst their homes get a complete modernisation.

Fans initially balked at a deal where only 15% of the CVC monies could be invested in players - but now they are benefitting from seeing more home-grown talent, in state-of-the-art stadia.

The pandemic truly turned out to be a wake-up call for Spanish football.

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