This summer’s transfer dealing in Spain resembles a game of musical strikers. The £26m sale of Roberto Soldado from Valencia to Tottenham has already led to Los Che moving for relegated Real Zaragoza’s Helder Postiga, although a deal is not yet complete. When Soldado’s international teammate, Alvaro Negredo, departed for Manchester City last month, Sevilla immediately reinvested some of his £20m transfer fee in Carlos Bacca and Kevin Gameiro from, respectively, Club Brugge and Paris Saint-Germain. Further high-profile exits involving Radamel Falcao, Fernando Llorente and Gonzalo Higuain from Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid mean that La Liga will feature a much-changed collection of forwards for the forthcoming season.
The transfers of Soldado and Negredo are particularly significant to the league as a whole. Spain’s top division has not only lost two of its most feared strikers, but players whose clubs had come to rely on their goals to an overwhelming degree. Soldado netted over a third of Valencia’s league goals last season, finishing the campaign with a tally of 24. Only one other Valencia player – Jonas Goncalves – reached double figures in La Liga. Sevilla depended even more on Negredo, whose 25 league goals represented just under half of the team’s overall total. His nearest challenger, midfielder Ivan Rakitic, managed eight.
The reasons why Soldado and Negredo have been sold this summer are telling, as is the fact the pair moved away from Spain. The financial situation at both Valencia and Sevilla is precarious to say the least. Their failure to secure a Champions League berth last season compounded Valencia’s existing woes at having a new stadium they can’t afford to complete and a debt still standing at hundreds of millions of pounds. Meanwhile, selling not only Negredo but also Jesus Navas this summer speaks volumes for Sevilla’s desperate need to address spiralling debts, with their previously much-praised transfer policy having come in for heavy criticism after a series of expensive flops. In leaving La Liga to join the Premier League, Negredo and Soldado have highlighted once again the overall economic disparity between the top divisions of Spain and England at present.
Spurs and Manchester City can easily justify the investment made in their new Spanish strikers as the Premier League begins its astronomical £3bn television deal. With broadcasting revenue in English football still shared in a roughly democratic manner, though, even the smaller Premier League clubs boast an advantage over the majority of teams in Spain who are forced to make do with what television money they can earn individually after Barcelona and Real Madrid have negotiated their own huge packages. The situation in Spain – where what the top two earn from the rights to their matches dwarfs that of the rest of the league – has made the existence of a duopoly in La Liga particularly impossible to ignore in the past five years.
As important as Soldado and Negredo were to Valencia and Sevilla, though, there was no need for either Barcelona or Real Madrid to consider adding them to their squads. While the strikers were huge assets to their former clubs, the overall gap in quality between the top two and the rest has widened considerably since Valencia won two league titles ten years ago and, more recently, Sevilla lifted two Uefa Cups. Barca and Real could afford not to buy Soldado and Negredo, despite their avalanche of goals over the last two seasons and recognition at international level, because they are no better than the options either club already have.
Spurs have bought Soldado to fire them to the Champions League; City, meanwhile, want Negredo to bring them the goals to challenge for the title. However, neither player would have commanded a place in Barca or Real’s first eleven and this, put simply, underlines where the overall strength of the Premier League currently lies in relation to La Liga: below the might of Barca and Real but above the level of most other clubs in Spain. The best players in the world still play in La Liga – highlighted by the fact there was never any doubt that when Neymar moved to Europe it would be to Spain – but they are concentrated at two clubs. The Premier League, though, has benefitted hugely from being able to bring in players like Soldado and Negredo who find themselves put up for sale by La Liga clubs who can no longer afford to keep them in a division whose two biggest clubs don’t need them.