x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Money talks as Spanish exports are on the rise in Premier League

Spain is the top shopping market for European clubs as players have been lured to England by consistent and healthy paychecks, writes Andy Mitten.

Spaniard Roberto Soldado, centre, was a big acquisition this summer when Tottenham shelled out €30 million for his services. Michael Regan / Getty Images
Spaniard Roberto Soldado, centre, was a big acquisition this summer when Tottenham shelled out €30 million for his services. Michael Regan / Getty Images

Results in the weekend friendly matches between English Premier League teams and Spanish Primera Liga sides were varied. Sevilla, despite losing their best two players to Manchester United's neighbours City, outclassed United to win 3-1 at Old Trafford, while Aston Villa beat Malaga, Hull City defeated Real Betis, Southampton won 4-3 over Real Sociedad and Espanyol drew at Tottenham Hotspur.

That all the games took place in England is indicative of the current financial plight facing Spanish clubs. Barcelona and Real Madrid may be feted globally, but smaller clubs are keen to pick up the match fees, as well as match practice, offered by wealthier English sides.

Historically, the trade in footballers between the two countries was limited to a few high-profile names, but that trickle has become a torrent, exacerbated by the much improved stock of Spanish football and the financial crisis in the country.

Twenty-nine Spaniards are now contracted to English Premier League clubs, yet there is not a single Englishman signed to a top-flight Spanish club. Wigan Athletic had more Spanish regular players than Malaga last season, as will Swansea City this season.

It is not only at the top level. Spanish-speaking players scored all 16 of Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion's goals between the beginning of January and the end of March last season.

Nor is the exodus of talent from Spain limited to England or even to Spanish nationals. Real Madrid stars Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina), plus Spaniards Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol all left the Spanish capital for Napoli in Italy for a combined fee of €58 million (Dh283m) last month.

Athletic Bilbao and Spain forward Fernando Llorente moved to Italy to play for Juventus. Athletic lost their best midfielder, Javi Martinez, to Bayern Munich a year ago. The Bavarians are managed by Pep Guardiola and boast new Spanish signing Thiago Alcantara.

Malaga winger Joaquin moved from Malaga to Fiorentina, joining compatriot Borja Valero, who left Villarreal for Florence a year ago.

The biggest deal was the €60m sale of Atletico Madrid's Colombian Radamel Falcao to Monaco.

The eight leading leagues in Europe all show a transfer net deficit on players this season as clubs invest in new talent. English Premier League clubs, for instance, have spent a reported €434m on new players and only recouped €89m from sales. Bucking this trend is the Spanish league, which has spent €251m on new players, yet recouped €400m from sales.

There will be more departures in an ever-increasing Spanish diaspora in which over 300 Spaniards are playing globally, making footballers one of Spain's most successful exports.

Why? They are technically good and they are relatively cheap. A second-tier player in Spain may earn €2,000 a week and there are always worries whether those wages would be paid on time. A second-tier footballer in England will earn five times that.

"It's a buyers' market," said a leading Spanish agent at the recent Wyscout forum for agents and clubs in Barcelona. "A buyers' market if you're not a Spanish club. It's a sellers' market if you're any Spanish club apart from Barcelona, Madrid or Athletic Club Bilbao, who don't need to sell players and have €40 million from Javi Martinez."

The agent was hoping to sell one of his players, not to Spain, but to an English Premier League team, "where the wages are two or three times higher and there are no problems getting paid."

Arsenal's first-team coach Francis Cagigao told El Pais: "Many Spanish players want a chance in the Premier League. The stadiums are full, there's a fantastic environment, there's a great respect for players and coaches. There's more patience from the fans and the economy is better.

"Spanish players have become desirable after the success of the national team. But there is also a crisis in Spanish football. Apart from two teams [Madrid and Barca], the rest are not in a position to offer long contracts. Ninety per cent of clubs cannot afford transfers."

That climate has caused Espanyol's Jordi Amat to join Swansea City for £2.5m (Dh14.2m), and Espanyol to sell Juan Forlin to Qatari side Al Rayyan for €3.5m.

Amat's fellow Catalan defender, Mark Muniesa, has left Barcelona for Stoke, while another former Barca B player, Luis Alberto, has gone to Liverpool from Sevilla. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has also signed Celta Vigo's best player, Iago Aspas.

But those signings are dwarfed by Tottenham's €30m purchase of Roberto Soldado from perennial selling club Valencia, and the two Manchester City signings from Sevilla, who have sold €70m worth of players and spent just €27m of that money.

Spain is becoming the preferred shopping destination for many clubs. When Michel Laudrup bought Michu for Swansea City for just £2m a year ago, little attention was paid to the move. Twenty goals later and he got plenty.

"I don't know why the big clubs in Spain did not buy him," Laudrup said. "Fortunately, last summer, there weren't many scouts from the Premier League watching the lower teams in La Liga."

There are now. And they are not disappointed.

"There are some quality players," Laudrup said. "And because the salaries are higher in English football, I think it will be a very important market in the next few years."

England's gain is Spain's loss.

Spaniards playing in the English Premier League this season:

Arsenal - Santi Cazorla, 29, midfield; Mikel Arteta, 31, midfield; Nacho Monreal, 27, full-back; Ignasi Miquel, 20, centre-back (loaned to Leicester City)

Aston Villa - Antonio Luna, 22, defender

Chelsea - Cesar Azpilicueta, 24, full-back; Fernando Torres, 29, forward; Juan Mata, 25, attacking midfielder; Oriol Romeu, 22, midfielder (loaned to Valencia)

Crystal Palace - Jose Campana, 20, midfielder

Everton - Gerard Deulofeu, 19, forward (on loan from Barcelona); Joel Robles, 23, goalkeeper

Liverpool - Daniel Pacheco, 22, forward; Luis Alberto, 21, forward; Iago Aspas, 26, forward; Jose Enrique, 28, full-back

Manchester City - Jesus Navas, 28, winger; Javi Garcia, 26, midfielder; Alvaro Negredo, 28, forward; David Silva, 27, forward

Manchester United - David de Gea, 23, goalkeeper

Norwich City - Javier Garrido, 28, defender

Stoke City - Marc Muniesa, 21, defender

Sunderland - Carlos Cuellar, 32, defender

Swansea City - Alejandro Pozuelo, 22, forward; Michu, 27, midfielder; Pablo Hernandez, 28, winger; Jose Alberto Canas, 26, midfielder; Angel Rangel, 31, defender; Chico, 26, defender; Jordi Amat, 21, defender

Tottenham Hotspur - Christian Ceballos, 21, midfielder; Roberto Soldado, 28, forward


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