Will Malaga’s millions break the La Liga monopoly?

It is widely accepted that when the club is on the receiving end of a big money takeover, the expectations of the fans rise ten-fold. It happened with Chelsea, it happened with Manchester City and it happened with Paris St. Germain. However, when Malaga were bought out by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani around 18 months ago the club had a plan to slowly propel them back up La Liga rather than spend heavily and “buy” the league.

After renovating Estadio La Rosaleda last year, expanding the capacity to just shy of 29,000, the platform for success elevated considerably. Bringing in Manuel Pellegrini, formerly of Villarreal and Real Madrid, the star manager to help bring in the big names was in place. However, rather than splashing the cash on players, sporting director Fernando Hierro insisted the emphasis would be placed on youth development and the arrival of established Spanish stars.

Cue an influx of experience and up-and-coming stars, including the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Joaquin Sanchez and Santi Cazorla, and the stage for a push up the table was there for all to see. However, the initial plan of challenging the ‘best of the rest’ hasn’t come to fruition. Los Boquerones are currently languishing 10th in the table, 10 points behind third-placed Valencia and a whopping 19 points off defending champions Barcelona.

And after a whopping 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Blaugrana over the weekend, coupled with a 4-0 loss to league leaders Real Madrid earlier in the campaign, overtaking Spain’s big two could prove a harder task than initially anticipated by the club’s owners. Breaking the stranglehold of the big two in La Liga is going to be no easy feat, no matter how much money is injected through private ownership, the name of both Madrid and Barcelona is comfortably going to trump that of Malaga.

The name is key when it comes to La Liga. The general consensus in World football is that the top two teams in the league are the biggest in Spain, followed by a mix of Valencia, Villarreal, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, the so called ‘best of the rest’. The first port of call for Malaga is to break the aforementioned quartet and establish themselves within the chasing pack as a team who can begin to guarantee European football, whether it is via the Europa League or Champions League, in order to attract the bigger name players.

However, the problems lay deeper than just closing the gap on the table. It is common knowledge that teams in Spain arrange their own TV deals with the national media and with a majority of the nation, and to some extent the world, supporting either Real Madrid or Barcelona, companies are going to fight tooth and nail in order to secure the rights to show both teams on TV. A colossal fan-base results in large viewing figures and with both teams able to command maximum profit from their insistence on ‘exploiting themselves’, television stations are willing to fork out top dollar for the pleasure.

On paper, this works to the full advantage of the powerful duo. People want to see them play so they can, effectively, charge what they want. And in comparison to the Premier League, the profit was double, around £123m to £60m, to what Manchester United, arguably England’s biggest team, made throughout their domestic campaign. However, outside the top two, the cracks begin to show. While Madrid and Barca yield from this, the rest comprehensively suffer as a result. In relation to last season’s Premiership campaign, Valencia, who finished third in la Liga, accumulated the equivalent of what Blackpool Rovers, around £39m, who ended up relegated after their one and only season to date in the top flight, earned via TV revenue throughout the year.

Clubs have fought to alter the deal, but the two heavyweights have opted against altering the agreement and can you blame them? Both, off the pitch, gain from the increase in viewership which results in more money and, in turn, the ability to spend more on players both through transfer and wage budgets. In comparison to the rest of the league, they are completely blown out of the water in terms of money in coffers. With the increase viewership, the branding increases and with it, the gulf increases between the top two and the remaining 18.

In comparison, Malaga, bearing in mind they had recently been taken over that summer, received around £10m in TV payments, less than a tenth of what the big two received. When teams in, for example, England often benefit from the aftermath of a private takeover with a substantial increase in interest from afar and closer to home. However, the news that Malaga were subject to  a big money takeover from wealthy Qatari backers only begun to reach the shores outside of Spain over the summer when, as has been dubbed, ‘Project Malaga’ really begun to build up momentum.

That said, the money is available for Pelligrini to spend and with the new TV agreement set to come into for the 2015/16 season, although the option to bring it forward one-year is available, it should level the playing-field, if only slightly, in the favour of the remaining teams outside of Madrid and Barcelona. However, the key is still product placement, in that retrospect. Malaga may have millions in the coffers but the sheer fact of the matter is, fans are closely associated to Madrid and Barcelona and on a global scale, they are contentedly two of the biggest teams in football.

It is this branding that Los Boquerones have to compete with, which is easier said than done. The money will help play a part in their overall quest to overcome Spain’s two most successful teams but it will take ample time before they come close to be considered the best of the rest, let alone challenge the dominant grasp that Madrid and Barca have over La Liga.

*Note, figures came courtesy of Swiss Ramble.

Ben McAleer

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