Liga’s top players take flight

The Premier League is cherry-picking talent but the crisis is driving a wider exodus

Jesús Navas in action for Spain last Saturday.
Jesús Navas in action for Spain last Saturday.ROBERT SULLIVAN (EFE)

“The English league is superior in every way: the structure, the fans, competitiveness and spending power,” says the revelation of last year’s Premier League, Michu, to explain the flight of talent from Spain to England. “You can organize a trip to watch Swansea in Liverpool in the final week of the season already because the calendar is done. Any team can win in any stadium while in Spain it’s impossible at Camp Nou or the Bernabéu. And fans here value their players and travel to away games.”

Michu is one of the reasons that English clubs are trawling La Liga, convinced that a decent player is always waiting to be picked up. The forward cost Swansea just 2.5 million euros when he signed from Rayo. Last season the Premier League earned more money than any other, 2.9 billion euros compared to the Bundesliga’s 1.9 billion and La Liga’s 1.8 billion. In total, the Premier League has paid 317 million euros for the 24 Spanish players plying their trade there.

One of the reasons coach Alejandro Valverde left Valencia this summer was the collapse of an agreement to sign Iago Aspas. The new directors at Mestalla thought the Celta forward too expensive at 10 million euros. The simple mathematics are that medium-sized Spanish clubs can no longer hope to compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona, nor prevent their best players from being snapped up the Premier League, Serie A or Ligue 1.

Under the Spanish system, Real and Barça coin 56 percent of the total revenue doled out by La Liga. In England, Manchester United only receives 11 percent. The English second division has turnover of 558 million euros, more than the Turkish and Dutch top flights.

Jesús Navas has just signed for Manchester City, which paid Sevilla a fee of 20 million euros for the Spain international. In recent years the jewels of the Spanish league have been plundered by Premier League clubs: Fernando Torres and David de Gea from Atlético; David Silva and Juan Mata from Valencia; Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal from Málaga. Athletic has been pruned for internationals Fernando Llorente and Javi Martínez, although their destinations were Italy and Germany respectively.

Spanish footballers represent good value for their technical ability and individual skills. “The little fellas [Mata, Silva, Cazorla] are a phenomenon,” says Michu. “Navas will take to the Premier League like a duck to water: there are a lot of end-to-end games and he’s in good shape physically.”

There are almost 180 Spanish players based in 36 countries. Curiously, there is not a single Spanish player in France but several have played in Hong Kong at first division side Kitchee under former Barcelona youth coach Josep Gombau. “Having been a British colony they like a scrap here. There is a lot of long-ball stuff but we try to play like Barcelona and we won the league doing so. Spaniards are riding the wave at the moment, the fame of the national team precedes us. You’re not going to get rich here but it’s a good living for a Segunda B player,” says Depor youth team product Dani Cancela.

But not all leagues are as comfortable as Hong Kong. Former Levante keeper Manolo Reina recalls his time in the Cypriot first division: “I was there for five months and it was a disaster. I signed for two years but they didn’t pay me; they tried to throw me out of my house and the team, Paphos, started the season with a nine-point deduction.”

The only Spaniard in Qatar is Real Madrid’s all-time leading scorer Raúl. Another former Spain international, Marcos Senna, announced on Monday that he would be leaving Villarreal after 11 seasons to play in the US. Mexico is host to two Luis Garcías, both former internationals who played at Liverpool and Zaragoza. Xisco, a league winner with Valencia in 2004, plays for Dinamo Tbilisi. And Barcelona starlet Isaac Cuenca now plays for Eredivisie giant Ajax.

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