Reality bites in Spain

La Liga’s winter transfer window shut more with a whimper than a bang last Thursday.

The biggest move on deadline day was Malaga, who are still in the Champions League, selling left-back Nacho Monreal to Arsenal for €10 million. Another Spanish international leaving the country in a big money deal, while no Primera División club spent any such sum to bring a player in.

According to respected online database, Spain’s top flight clubs spent a total of just €13.6 million last month, between all 20 of them. Premier League sides combined splashed over 10 times as much.

Only five La Liga clubs spent any money at all — Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Granada, Celta Vigo and Sevilla.

None of these deals were due to clubs looking to invest heavily to really try and improve their situations. Madrid paid Sevilla €3.5 m for Diego López as they needed a goalkeeper immediately after Iker Casillas broke his hand.

The €3.5m fee from Atletico to Sporting Lisbon for Emiliano Insúa was reportedly more of an accounting trick to cover a previous debt between the clubs.

Sevilla did spend €1.3m on Serbian winger Miroslav Stevanovic early in the window, but rojiblancos president José María Del Nido then spent most of January trying to hawk striker Álvaro Negredo or defender Federico Fazio. Granada and Celta Vigo splashed out on Diego Buonanotte (€2.3m) and Fabián Orellana (€1.2m) respectively. Neither player was attracting much megabucks interest from abroad.

While talent like Lucas Moura, Willian, Moussa Sissoko, Mario Balotelli, Wesley Sneijder and Demba Ba were making big money moves around other leagues, Spain’s clubs were mostly either loaning unwanted players from abroad (Malaga taking Lucas Piazón from Chelsea and Diego Lugano from Paris Saint-Germain) or swapping their reserves amongst each other.

As Monreal was following his international team-mates Santi Cazorla, David Silva and Juan Mata along the well-worn path from Spain to England, Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente was agreeing to play for Serie A champions Juventus next season.

All the inactivity was no shock for anyone following the off-field issues in Spanish football.

January began with Deportivo La Coruña finally succumbing to the reality of its €100m debts and filing for voluntary examinershipunder Spain’s Ley Concursal.

A week later Valencia’s regional government took control of the city’s football club, to ensure it did not default on the €86m it owed to failing Spanish bank Bankia.

Amid the gloom, there was one chink of light for Spanish football last week however. New ‘financial fair play’ rules were announced this week which say that, from next season, no Spanish team can sign a new player unless they can afford to. Clubs must submit accounts to the Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP) for approval each year, before being allowed to register new players.

Standing alongside LFP president José Luis Astiazarán on Wednesday, Spain’s sports minister Miguel Cardenal said the agreement marked a turning point in Spanish football, and clubs would now have to live within their means.

“There is a before and after in Spanish football starting from today,” Cardenal said on Wednesday. “Reality is returning to Spanish football.”

This would be nice to believe. Spain’s footballing authorities have proven themselves better at announcing than enforcing rules in the past. Clubs could — and did — previously rack up huge debts (about €3.5 billion between them) without any sporting sanction.

There are many potential reasons why these debts did not rise further this January — including local banks and wealthy club backers turning off the taps, falling attendances and rumours that TV money is drying up.

Another possibility is that Cardenal is right and reality has returned.

It will take more than one transfer window to know for sure but this month may have marked a new beginning for Spanish football.

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