El Centrocampista

Money isn’t everything in the Europa League

Angel Martinez/GETTY IMAGES
European football faces the very real prospect of two all-Spanish cup finals come mid-May when all eyes turn to Bucharest and Munich.  In the Champions League, Real Madrid and Barcelona – despite both suffering narrow semi-final first-leg defeats , must still be considered hot favourites to prevail on their own patch to set up a ‘super’ el clásico finale,  while in the Europa League; Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao fill three of the four semi-final spots.

In Europe’s top competition Real Madrid possess the most expensively assembled team of all time, breaking the world record transfer fee back in 2007 for Ricardo Kaka at €65 million before setting a new record weeks later when they splashed out €96 million to bring Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. Their squad that looks like it may be about to win its first league title since President Florentino Perez’ returned has been assembled for over half a billion Euros.

Their bitter rivals Barcelona haven’t shied away either, despite the majority of their match day starting eleven consisting of academy players it can be argued that their purchase of Zlatan Ibrahimovic cost more than the world record set by Madrid and Ronaldo due to Samuel Eto’o going in the opposite direction in the deal with Inter Milan – the Catalans have also spent €20 million+ on the likes of Javier Mascherano, David Villa, Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez in recent seasons.

The other Champions League semi-finalists include Bayern Munich, famous around Europe for beating opponents in the Bundesliga by buying the best players from their opponents, the most recent examples being top scorer Mario Gomez from Stuttgart for a German record fee of €35 million, and Manuel Neuer from Shalke for €22 million making him the second most expensive goalkeeper in the history of football.

Chelsea make up the quartet of finalists with their spending well documented, a team that spent massively to win the league title continue to do so with €174 million invested last summer alone.

In the Europa League the story is very different however, where each club’s spending is limited. In the all-Spanish tie Valencia and Atletico Madrid both suffer from financial problems linked to poor ownership and are both hoping on the salvation of plans for each club to develop a new stadium in order to relive their debt. Valencia’s situation now seems to been on the way to recovery since the reinstatement of President Manuel Llorente and the club can look forward to a brighter future, however since 2010 he has seen overseen, all transfers considered, a profit of €62.2 million, an amount that would be inoperable for many teams aiming to win a European trophy.

The situation with their opponents is similar but to a much lesser extent, Atletico Madrid have only spent a net amount of €800,000 in the same three year period, employing more of a sell-to-buy policy than Valencia’s sell-to-service debt program, but still putting a restriction on the clubs progress caused by the family ownership headed by Miguel Angel Gil Marin, who many if not all fans want out of the club as soon as possible.

In the other semi-final tie Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon are in theory crippled by an estimated €250 million worth of debt yet they somehow managed to spend nearly €30 million last summer giving a second chance to many players including the likes of Diego Capel and Jeffren Suarez, the payback has got Sporting this far but a fourth place standing in the league is perhaps a more accurate depiction of the clubs situation.

Making up the semi-finalists are Athletic Bilbao, and unlike the aforementioned teams, Athletic are actually in a stable financial situation. However, due to their Basque-only policy, their spending is also limited. The €7.5 million paid for Ander Herrera and the €2.7 million for Mikel San Jose are Athletic’s only transfer dealings of any note yet they find themselves in the Europa League semi-final, the Copa del Rey final and also still have a slight chance of Champions League football next season.

After the completion of this week’s first leg ties with all bar one being delicately poised courtesy of a one goal advantage, the Europa League looks to be matching the Champions League on talent, excitement, competiveness and entertainment on every level, an astonishing feat when the finances are doing their best to restrict any comparison.


  1. Petinga

    22 April, 2012 at 10:46

    Good piece, but how can you write for Sporting that “a fourth place standing in the league is perhaps a more accurate depiction of the club’s situation” and then heap praise on Bilbao for being in the Copa del Rey final “and having a slight chance of Champions League football”???? Bilbao are 8th (eighth!) in La Liga tied on points with four (!) other teams.

    Sporting also has a chance of Champions League football should they manage to reach 3rd place. Oh, and if you had done your homework you would know that Sporting is also scheduled to play the Portuguese Cup final. Against minnows Academica – arguably a less complicated prospect than playing Barcelona, as is the case for Bilbao…

    Anything goes to make your point in an opinion article, even distorting the truth.

  2. Connor

    24 April, 2012 at 00:51

    Hi Petinga, I understand your points but my focus on Sportings league form was in order to show that their bad finances are having an effect, not to destort the truth.

    I was aware of their situation in the cup but I didnt think that was an accurate depiction on their finances, they deserve huge credit for getting to the final but the point of this article was to show the lack of money in the Europa League, so it isnt really relevent, I did however think it was relevent to Athletic considering they are the only team in the Semis who are in a stable situation.

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