“That was back in 2010 when Sevilla won the Spanish Cup. I was still winning things and achieving things there,” explained Jesus Navas as to why he didn’t join Arsenal three years ago.
As he says, Sevilla were winning things, but since that 2010 Copa win, Atletico Madrid are the only other Spanish side to win silverware outside the big two and that is one of the reasons why Navas has joined Manchester City this summer. And he isn’t the only one moving on to find success.
Whilst the competitiveness of La Liga has been suffering for some time, it still seemed that the League was still always able to come out on top when it came to talent on show. However, that is no longer the case as more and more are jumping ship.
In 2011 Atletico defender Tomas Ujfalusi admitted that one of the key reasons he was leaving Spain was so that he could compete for and possibly win a League title. It should have rung alarm bells but it didn’t. Fans weren’t shocked by the Czech’s comments but it was the first time that a footballer had spoken out this way. If you want to win Spain’s top prize these days one must dress in Blanco or Blaugrana and if you don’t play in those colours, your best chance to win a League title is to emigrate. And each year more and more players are doing it.
So far, 12 of those to have left Spain this summer have moved to the Premier League, with City and Swansea building up quite a stock of Spanish talent. We have Thiago Alcantara now joining Pep Guardiola in Germany, Radamel Falcao, Eric Abidal and Jeremy Toulalan at moneybags Monaco. Higuain makes it 25 players in total to have left La Liga, Julio Baptista is on course to making it 26 and there will surely be a few more before the end of August. The emigration process started a few seasons ago but this summer has really been an eye opener for fans as more and more Spanish internationals depart, mainly for England.
A few years ago Spanish clubs would have had the money to buy the likes of Higuain or Thiago, but times have changed and clubs have limited options. Spain was also able to attract top players from abroad and pay them huge wages. The League wasn’t very competitive, but more than it is now, and even if they had no chance on that front, they always had Europe. A lot of people are suggesting that higher wages elsewhere are the reason and in the case of Falcao there is a degree of truth to that.
Before there was the infamous ‘Beckham Law’, which saw foreign players arrive in Spain and only have to pay a fraction of the tax that Spaniards had to but to suggest that it is all down to greedy players is wrong. Things have also changed on other fronts and gone are the days when banks handed over millions to clubs to buy and finance new players. Local governments have also pulled the plug on grants and so clubs can’t afford to pay what they did in their heyday and now must sell to balance the books.
La Liga President Javier Tebas may continue to beat the drum about this being the best League but it seems that not everyone in Spain is convinced. As more players leave, the standard risks dropping and with Spain still struggling with the recession, fans are switching off and priced out of grounds, seeing attendances continue to drop.
Players such as Santi Cazorla and Fernando Torres have commented about the passion and the enthusiasm they find when they play in England and some players have admitted that hearing these stories from international teammates is something that has helped persuade them to move abroad too.
This summer Real Madrid has done its part in keeping some Spanish talent in the country and Barca has its fair share too, but many have flown the coop and others will soon. At the start, fans played the exodus off as foreign players wanting to spread their wings and prove themselves in other Leagues but now more and more Spanish players are abandoning ship and looking for pastures greener and some are worried. La Liga is in trouble, which has been known for years, but just when they thought it couldn’t get worse, the earth trembles again.