El Centrocampista

FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY? – How La Liga’s smaller clubs have started to adapt.

By Richard Thorburn

Spanish football is currently undergoing a renaissance that seems to hold no bounds.

The senior national side are  reigning European and World champions, both the under19 and under 21 teams are European kings and the under20 group are currently looking good in the u20 World Cup in Colombia.

Add to this the obvious dominance of Barcelona plus the strength of the domestic league, and it seems things could not be healthier.

As in everyday life though, appearances can sometimes be deceptive.

In a climate of global financial difficulties, football has been hit hard and La Liga is no exception.

With the notable exception of Barcelona, Real Madrid and now Malaga, this year’s transfer activity has been slow with the majority of clubs searching around trying to strengthen their respective squads for as little outlay as possible.

The balance sheet for this year already shows a 70 million euros drop on player acquisition compared to this time last year.

For the majority of clubs in Spain, this has become a way of life in order to avoid going out of business.

One of the clubs competing for players on the cheap is CA Osasuna.

While the club’s financial situation may not be in a critical state just yet,  manager José Luis Mendilibar has had to sanction both the sale of  star full-back Nacho Monreal’s  – a €6m departure to Malaga,  and midfielder Javier Camuñas’ €2.3m sale to Villarreal this summer.

Working on a shoestring budget, Mendilibar has had to play the role of ‘bargain hunter’ this summer but has notably secured the signature of experienced centre back Ruben Gonzalez ,who impressed last season at Mallorca.

The key target for the majority of clubs this summer however,  is extending the contracts of  existing key players rather than bringing in new ones.

For Osasuna, this means the impressive duo of Kike Sola and Javad Nekounam.

Javad Nekounam has signed a new contract at Osasuna.

Iranian international Nekounam was a pivotal player for the Pamplona club last season, and it seems no coincidence they lost four back-to-back games in January while he was away on national duty at the AFC Asian Cup.

A talismanic presence since arriving at the club in 2006 , Nekounam marked his return with a brace against Espanyol and helped the club secure their La Liga status.

The impressive performances last season have not gone unnoticed, and with Espanyol and Villareal both reported interested in Nekounam, coach Mendilibar will be relieved the player finally put pen to paper on a new two year contact last month.

After his solid showing during the 2006 World Cup in Germany,  Osasuna beat off competition from Tottenham and Lyon to secure the services of Nekounam and many people saw it as a massive coup for the modest side – perhaps securing him for another two seasons will prove an even bigger one.

Time will tell.

Kike Sola meanwhile, ended last year as Osasuna’s top goal scorer – scoring with an impressive seven goals in 16 appearances.

Having now committed to the club until 2014, and with the departures of Walter Pandiani and Javier Camunas, Osasuna will be looking once again to Sola to be the focal point of their attack.

The club secured a respectful ninth place last season and may even hope to build on that and push for a UEFA Europa League place, but things will not be easy for clubs like Osasuna, especially with money at a premium.

While the two powerhouses of Spanish football continue to spend big, albeit to a lesser extent than previous years, the gulf in class between the ‘also-rans’ is getting wider.

For many clubs, survival is the be all and end all.

The fact is, these clubs are finding it ever harder to compete at the highest level and many people are sceptical the implementation of Michel Platini’s flawed Financial Fair Play initiative will have a marked differences on the situation.

Time will also tell on that one, but there could be some even darker clouds looming on the horizon for some.

As it stands, success could depend on the negotiating skills of those behind the scenes and, dare I saw it, the ability of the existing coach and his players…

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