x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Spain sprinkles success around to the little guys

Spain boasts Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Real Madrid’s Bernabeu, yet they are seldom the stage for national team matches. Instead, Spain work their way around not just favoured venues, but a range of smaller stadiums, taking the European and world champions to the provinces. It works.

Playing at smaller venues owned by the little clubs of Spanish football gives national team members such as midfielder Andres Iniesta, left, a chance to repay those clubs they got their start with. Jose Jordan / AFP
Playing at smaller venues owned by the little clubs of Spanish football gives national team members such as midfielder Andres Iniesta, left, a chance to repay those clubs they got their start with. Jose Jordan / AFP

There are stadiums identifiable with the international team who play there: England and Wembley, Uruguay and the Centenario, Mexico and Azteca.

However, countries who limit their games to one venue are in the minority. Not every country is as geographically small as England or Uruguay, or as attached to a stadium as is Mexico, so games are played at several sites.

Germany may play in Berlin or Munich, Italy in Bari or Milan. It gives more fans a chance to see their country’s biggest names live.

Spain boasts the two biggest arenas in European football, yet Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Real Madrid’s Bernabeu seldom stage Spain matches.

Instead, Spain work their way around not just favoured venues, but a range of smaller stadiums, taking the European and world champions to the provinces. It works.

Spain beat Belarus in a packed Palma last week, a venue that is often sparsely populated for Mallorca home games.

On Tuesday they beat Georgia at Albacete’s 17,300-capacity Carlos Belmonte.

Albacete are formerly of the Primera Liga but now in the third division. Andres Iniesta grew up nearby and was playing for them when he was spotted by Barcelona at age 12.

It was Iniesta who came to their rescue in 2011 when Albacete faced extinction.

Iniesta paid €420,000 (Dh2 million) to save them and become their majority shareholder. In June 2013, he put an additional €240,000 aside to save the club from administrative relegation after being unable to pay the wages of Albacete players.

He was delighted to go home and play for Spain, back to the little stadium where he made his Spain debut before the 2006 World Cup finals, but just as pleasing was the way Spain’s touring raises the profile of Albacete and other smaller clubs.

Spanish club football is too skewed towards Barca and Real Madrid, yet Spain spreading their games around is like shining a light underneath the mushroom of the Big Two.

It spreads joy, highlights plights of clubs and brings money to those who need it.

And, once in a lifetime, allows a local hero such as Iniesta, a man who scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final, to return and play at the peak of his career.

Spanish television wanted to sample the mood and sent a reporter into the crowd.

He asked: “Who is your favourite? Iniesta?” The reply: “No, Sergio Ramos”.

sports@thenational.ae

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