Andy Mitten

Spain really does rule the world

Andy Mitten

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Monday night
saw a leading Spanish radio station broadcast live from Manchester, where David
de Gea, David Silva and Pepe Reina were the guests. The programme started at
midnight and while that might seem late, that's the culture in Iberia where
late night radio shows with big name players have always been popular.

Spain may be
European and world champions and most of the national team play for Barcelona,
but a significant number of top Spaniards play in England.

Spanish footballers
haven't always travelled well. Fernando Morientes' experience in Liverpool was
a chastening one, while the sojourns of internationals Asier Del Horno (now on
the bench at super soar-away Levante) at Chelsea and Javier de Pedro at
Blackburn in the mid 00s were brief and unsuccessful.

differences were often blamed. In 1996, Jordi Cruyff left Barcelona for
Manchester United.

"I didn't like the food, the weather or the
city," he said. "And why do English clubs move 21-year-old players into big
houses 20 kilometres from the city itself?"

recently, Gerard Pique was asked if missed Manchester. His reply was simple:

situation is changing. While the English weather can never match sunnier
Spanish climes, British cities have improved and become more cosmopolitan in
the past 15 years, while the boom in flights means home is only two hours away.
The way of living has also altered, players now occupying smart city centre
apartments. Spaniard Rafa Benitez was so enamoured of Liverpool that he now
calls it home.

The 2010
World Cup win boosted the stock of Spanish football immeasurably and 163
Spaniards now make their living around the world.

Thirty two
are in England, from Fernando Torres at Chelsea to Pablo Ibanez at West Brom.
Jordi Gomez and Piscu are at Wigan, Carlos Cuellar at Aston Villa, while
Arsenal have Mikkel Arteta and Manuel Almunia, who is on loan at West Ham.

boast Jose Enrique and Pepe Reina, United De Gea and City Silva, Norwich signed
Daniel Ayala in the summer while Michel Salgado and Ruben Rochina are at
Blackburn. Marcos Alonso has also gone north to nearby Bolton and Andrea
Orlandi, Angel Rangel are contracted to Swansea. They went to Wales because
they were managed by a Spaniard, Roberto Martinez.

In contrast,
there's not a single Englishman in Spain's top flight.

The number
of Spaniards playing abroad is still well short of the 3,000 Brazilians playing
globally, but the total has tripled in the last two years, their diaspora now
stretching from Argentina to Japan, Russia to New Zealand. The current
champions of Hong Kong have five Spaniards and a Spanish coach. Closer to home,
Suso Santana plays for Hearts in Scotland while Yael Haro is at University
College Dublin.

Athletic Bilbao Fran Yeste winger is one of five Spaniards at an Olympiakos
team coached by a Spaniard, former Barca player Gabri plays in Switzerland.

There are
other big name Spanish players in surprising locations: Guti at Besiktas, Raul
at Schalke 04 and Capdevila at Benfica. These are high profile former
internationals in the final chapters of their careers, looking for a new,
well-remunerated, experience.

Two other
types leave Spain for pastures new where the grass is greener financially.
Those in England's second tier earn between £3,000-£10,000 a week - three times
what they would expect to earn in the Spanish equivalent. Late payment of wages
is routine in Spain, while on the field Spaniards often find that they are
technically superior to their English counterparts and that they excel.

Players with
Barcelona or Real Madrid on their CV have always been in demand and one reason
why Manchester City reward the Ivorian Yaya Toure so well is that he was a
proven first teamer with Barcelona.

Not only
players have made the move. Albert Benaiges was the head of Barca's famed youth
system until he was tempted to Dubai - for the footballing challenge you'll
understand. Luis Enrique went from coaching Barca's B team to AS Roma's first
team. He's since taken a clutch of Spaniards with him, like the former Barca
striker Bojan.

reputation of Spanish footballers has never been higher and with the economic
crisis ongoing in Spain, more and more will look to play abroad. Given the
success of their compatriots, they have plenty of choice of destinations.

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