Swansea’s summer capture of Michu hardly caught the imagination but its one that should have rung alarm bells across the world of football. Not one of Spain’s better known players, Michu was signed for only £2 million by new Swans boss, Michael Laudrup. The Danish legend couldn’t believe his luck in getting the player for so cheap and with little fight from his club, Rayo Vallecano or other clubs in La Liga. Whilst Michu is not a glamour player, he is the type of squad player that most Spanish clubs desire – regular performer, strong technical ability and the scoring touch (15 goals from midfield last season). But the sad truth is that, no one bidded for his services simply because no club, outside of the big two in Spain, could afford to.
The economic crisis that has gripped Spain over the past two years has not left the countries football clubs unaffected. Besides the big two – Barcelona and Real Madrid, the vast majority of clubs are suffering due to the down turn. With 40% unemployment in the country, money is tight for its people so spending on non essentials has been hit hard. Ticket sales are down, expensive TV packages are being given up, merchandise sales are at an all time low as fans use their hard-earned cash for other means. With the exception of Madrid and Barcelona who pull a large chunk of their revenue from abroad, the Spanish clubs are struggling to balance their books, with a majority now posting losses. This has led to assets being sold, players released and a trimming of the wage budgets.
Whilst their city rivals Real spent close to € 30million this summer on signings like Luka Modric and Michael Essien from Tottenham and Chelsea respectively, UEFA cup winners Atletico Madrid could only manage to spend € 1m, relying on loan deals and free transfers to bolster their squad. Deigo Simone, Atletico’s spirited manager, resisted the temptation to sell his talisman Radamel Falcao for a huge sum to one of Europe’s high spenders – Zenit, Manchester City, PSG or Anzhi, instead working with a smaller transfer budget in this window. But as Falcao’s contract runs down and his form continues, Simeone will come under more pressure to cash in on his star player whilst he can, rather than risk losing him for free.
UEFA Cup runners up Athlecio Bilbao are in the same position, spending low this summer (€ 2.5m) whilst desperately fighting off potentail suitors from abroad for their striker, Fernando Llorente. The strikers contract is running out soon and the risk of Bilbao losing him for free may force their hand in the next window. Similarily, unless the economic situation improves and further cash is injected into the club, they may be forced to sell star players like Iker Muniain, Fernando Amorebieta and captain Carlos Perpegui, in order to balance the books.
But it’s not just star players that are leaving for pastures new. Core squad players, like Michu, are being snapped up for bargain prices by clubs in England, Germany and Russia as they take advantage of the growing financial problems the clubs are faced with. Unable to offer the same wages as their foreign counterparts, spanish clubs are losing players for generally less than their true market value. This summer, Wigan snapped up Iván Ramis and Arouna Koné, Swansea picked up Michu as well as Pablo Hernández for cheap and Celtic grabbed Miku as Gefate looked to lower its wage bill. All five were core players for their respective clubs but reluctantly left to ease their burden and allow the club to continue.
It’s a similar story across the border in Portugal, but not yet at the same level. Portuguese clubs are looking towards Russia, England and Germany for rich clubs to purchase the best of their talent, with Hulk and Axel Witsel already leaving champions Porto for Russia and massive transfer fees. As their economic crisis deepens, further players will have to leave to keep clubs afloat but as with Spain they know that they have a silver lining. In times of trouble, when money is tight for clubs and they are unable to purchase their talent, they turn to their established youth teams for the next crop of young stars who will take the step up to the first team. Realistically its the only thing that is keeping some clubs alive but it will also be only a matter of time before these assets are being stripped as well by Europe’s elite if the crisis continues.