“We are in an industry. You can’t cheat (the system).” These were the words of Javier Tebas, the head of LaLiga, when he was talking about Paris Saint Germain’s business dealings last October. After seeing one of his league’s star attractions leave Barcelona to join the French side, Tebas felt blindsided. The mantra of being the best league in the world relies heavily on having the best players around. Neymar is one of those. PSG stole him, illegally, in the eyes of Tebas.
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“We’ve seen that PSG and Manchester City, in the last five years, are the clubs who have spent the most on players. Because their real accounts don’t allow them to make these purchases, they are inventing fictitious sponsorship deals, involved with the state. The prices of these deals don’t correspond with the current market’s prices.”
If you can’t beat them, join them?
As you can see, the loss of Neymar hit Tebas hard. It’s like a man going through a tough divorce and whenever his soon-to-be ex-wife is mentioned, he can’t resist the urge to call her names. “The cow is asking for the washing machine too! Can you believe it?” He’s a few months away from walking around Benidorm, shirtless, with his tie around his head telling everyone he’s better than ever.
With Tebas harbouring such strong views on what he refers to as financial doping, you wouldn’t expect to find any wrong doing on his watch. No, no. Mr Tebas runs a squeaky-clean image as the head of LaLiga. Using loopholes to generate extra funds and secure future business opportunities in oil-rich countries is unethical. Punishable by expulsion from European competitions, right Javier? Well, not quite.
This weekend saw LaLiga – that’s the league itself – announce a deal to bring nine Saudi Arabian players to Spain. All on loan for six months, with no guarantees of playing time, ahead of next summer’s World Cup. That doesn’t sound quite like a normal transaction for a league to make.
The biggest teams in LaLiga were exempt from adding one of these players to their ranks. But it didn’t matter, as for a small financial reward, there would be plenty of takers. The clubs themselves don’t need to pay a single cent for the player, nor contribute anything to their wages.
Who are the players?
Yahya Al-Shehri (Leganes), Marwan Othman (Leganes B), Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante), Salem Al Dawsari (Villarreal), Jaber Issa (Villarreal B) are the players joining LaLiga sides, or team’s who’s parent clubs are in LaLiga. Nooh Al Mousa (Real Valladolid), Abdulmajeed Al Sulayhi (Rayo Vallecano), Ali Al Namer (Numancia) and Abdullah Al Hamdan (Sporting Gijon) are all heading to LaLiga 1|2|3.
Al Shehri is 27, so hardly a young prospect, and takes up the last squad spot available at Leganes. The current head coach at Leganes, Asier Garitano, didn’t want the player and this is putting his long-term future at the club in doubt. Leganes are nine points clear of the relegation zone but being unable to add new faces isn’t ideal. This deal greatly impacts their potential movements this month.
Villarreal have a history of accepting foreign players in their squad. They’ve had a Chinese international and a Qatari player in recent years because of business arrangements. Neither player featured for the first team. Al Dawasi is apparently the best of the Saudi players to come over so he might have better luck than those before him. Time will tell.
Levante were after a striker this month but the addition of Al Muwallad, a midfielder, doesn’t really help them. At present he is unlikely to make an appearance for the LaLiga side as they are already strong in that area of the squad.
The rest of the Saudi players are being unfortunately thrown into the firing line of their new club’s supporters. It isn’t the fault of the players themselves but the reaction is to be expected. At the lower end of the spectrum, there’s fine margins for error when it comes to assembling a squad. Having a player the coach doesn’t need or want taking one of those sports, for ‘business reasons’, doesn’t help matters.
What does LaLiga get from this arrangement?
LaLiga, naturally, is keeping the exact figures of this operation a secret. The Spanish league’s growing popularity in Saudi Arabia, up 15% this year, is one of the main reasons for this deal. There is an acknowledgement that the clubs are being financially rewarded for this service though.
There are also agreements in place for these same clubs to open academies in Saudi Arabia and use Spanish coaches. This is with the idea of increasing their reputation in this part of the world to maximise potential business deals. Some of the clubs are already seeing their brand value rise with Villarreal’s Twitter account gaining over 25,000 followers after the announcement of Al Dawsari’s signing.
This scouting mission was run by Roberto Olabe and Rufete, who recommended the players to the interested teams, after working for three months in Saudi Arbia. The clubs were allowed to pick the player they wanted but the final decision was made by the Saudi team.
As for actual figures that these clubs can expect to earn, it’s unknown. There is talk of up to €5m being available if a team utilises one the bigger stars in LaLiga matches. Essentially this means Saudi Arabia are paying for one of their players to have a spot in a major European team’s squad. Not exactly ethical. Tebas will argue that this deal could earn clubs more when it comes to negotiating a new TV deal.
What’s the initial reaction in Spain to the new signings?
Unfortunately Spanish fans are quite low on the list of priorities when it comes to LaLiga. Their reaction, or anger, doesn’t usually see changes made. The inability to plan fixtures ahead of time makes it difficult for them to arrange travel arrangements. Even then, some matches are changed at short notice and this causes greater distruption. And if you follow one of the smaller sides in the country expect to see plenty of Friday and Monday night fixtures.
There’s a lot of scepticism when it comes to these players joining their teams. The growth of the league – and team’s brand – elsewhere is fine but fans themselves very rarely benefit from these kind of arrangements. With restrictions to squad places, it could force their team to abandon potential signings until the summer.
The AFE, which is the Spanish version of the PFA, has come out criticising the deal. They claim the league is putting economical gain ahead of the sporting aspects of the game. “They are sacrificing the essence of the sport and putting obstacles in the way of the promotion and development of our footballers.”
The RFEF, Spain’s FA, are also against this arrangement, and could even go as far as reporting Tebas to FIFA. They feel the development of footballers, at professional and amateur levels, is their responsibility. As such, it isn’t something which should fall under LaLiga’s jurisdiction.
I’ll end this with a quote from the president of the AFA, David Aganzo: “I think the footballing world needs to stop and think. Football can’t exist for the sole purpose of making money.”
For Tebas it seems as long as it’s him – and his teams – which are making money, it’s okay.