Up to 500 million people around the world may be scheduling their Sunday night around this weekend’s El Clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, but José María Del Nido won’t be among them. Well, he wouldn’t admit to being among them.
“Real Madrid and Barcelona are thieves,” the former Sevilla president claimed in 2011. “They rob the rest of the teams in the Primera División. Atlético have to sell their cracks; Valencia, Villarreal and Sevilla do as well. Madrid and Barça keep their stars and remove ours.”
The disparity between El Real, La Blaugrana and then the rest is quite alarming. You could use the poem “Two scavengers in a truck, two beautiful people in a Mercedes” by the American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti to sum it up, except in this case there are 18 scavengers in the truck. Madrid and Barça, meanwhile, are free to drive round in their flashy cars wearing “hip three-piece linen suits.” All sides start the season on zero points and all games are goalless at the off, but as soon as the traffic lights turn green, Carlo Ancelotti and Luis Enrique’s sides rev their engines and breeze out in front, without the need for fifth gear.
Del Nido (right, below), one year into a seven-year prison term for the embezzlement of public funds, may not be granted the freedom to enjoy the occasion anyway. So the men leading those scavengers must step up to ensure people hear what life is like for teams outside the Clásico.
Diego Simeone, who masterminded Atlético Madrid’s shock title triumph last season, says there is “a small difference between [Atléti] and Barça and Madrid (…) about $422 million.” Valencia boss Nuno Espírito Santo has got Cholo’s back: “Simeone talks sense. There is a big difference between Real Madrid, Barcelona and the rest. La Liga is about two teams.”
Espanyol president Joan Collet is begging for change — a collective television deal which would see the money distributed more fairly among the clubs in Spain’s top two divisions. At the moment, rights are individually negotiated, and most of the clubs have very little bargaining power.
While England’s Premier League may benefit from the most impressive television deal in European soccer, no teams earned more than Barcelona and Madrid last season. Both took home $175 million in TV rights, while Liverpool, England’s biggest earner, pocketed $123 million. In Germany, Bayern Munich only received $39 million, while Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain topped the Italian and French leagues with $99 million and $47 million respectively.
If the rest of Europe is being blown away by the Clásico duo’s earnings, the rest of Spain is being run over — then backed over, just to make sure. Valencia was the league’s third biggest earner last season with $48 million, which is less than the Premier League’s lowest earner, Cardiff City at $78 million.
Elche was paid just $20 million and was unable to pay its players in November and December. The club paid up in January, but its struggles persist. Meanwhile, Madrid and Barça are able to go out and frivolously spend whatever they like on the latest coiffed-haired midfielder who may or may not help them break down new advertising barriers.
To their credit though, these two — possibly somewhat reluctantly but not wanting to be the bad guys any longer — have both put their names to a new deal. However, the holdup comes from the Spanish government’s refusal to force through the new law. A strike was strategically planned for this weekend, the weekend of El Clásico, but it looks as though those plans won’t be followed through on.
Yet despite their complete domination of the money tables, Barça and Madrid still seek small advantages elsewhere. The Catalans are currently serving a transfer ban for breaking rules when signing international minors, while last week Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell, the club’s current and former presidents, were ordered to stand trial relating to tax fraud in the Neymar transfer.
Meanwhile, Madrid is hardly the example of an exemplary club, with FIFA investigating it as well, for the same charges. The recent booing of Ancelotti, a man who won four trophies last year, is outrageous when compared to some of the real troubles other La Liga clubs have.
On Sunday night, the 22 players expected to take to the field at Camp Nou will have cost the two clubs around $860 million — and that’s with Lionel Messi costing nothing and James Rodríguez injured. On show will be the holder of the Ballon d’Or (Cristiano Ronaldo), the winner of a record four Ballon d’Ors (Messi), the top two goal scorers in the history of the Champions League (Ronaldo and Messi) and the world’s most expensive player (Gareth Bale). Then there’s Luis Suárez, Karim Benzema, Neymar, Toni Kroos …
The media rarely notices Elche, Espanyol, and the other clubs that can’t afford to splash large sums of cash, but when the Clásico circus is in town they don’t even exist — except to weigh in on the event. In the week preceding, managers and players across Spain will be insultingly asked to give sound bites on the Clásico. “For us, the Clásico doesn’t matter,” Elche manager Fran Escriba said last season. “The big game is against Granada on Saturday.” Atléti midfielder Mario Suárez was similarly blasé: “The Clásico? All we care about is beating [Real] Betis.”
For hundreds of millions of people across the globe, the weekend’s spectacle represents the very best of soccer. But for those outside Spain’s blessed duo, El Clásico is a reminder of the very worst of La Liga.