Learning From Other Leagues: La Liga

by Absolute Thai Football

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League Coefficient
The European League Coefficient decides how many of a country’s clubs will play in the Champions and Europa League based on their results over five seasons in those competitions. It’s two points for a win and one for a draw and then the season’s total is divided by the number of teams from that country. Spain are currently second, ahead of Germany but behind England.

The League

There are currently 20 teams, but the pressure by UEFA to reduce to18 is resisted by smaller clubs who know relegation equals economic disaster.
The TPL’s 18 team format is barely sustainable at this stage of their development. The three leagues immediately above Thailand in the AFC rankings: Singapore, Indonesia and Australia have 13,12 and 10 teams respectively. The Thai FA have EPL stardust in their eyes and are agitating for two more Thai teams to be added. England may have 20 teams, but it has taken 148 years to get there.

Football Association Oversight
Squads are closely regulated in Spain and transfers between teams are infrequent. Spanish and EU players can’t switch between teams in the same division during a season, and teams register a fixed first team squad of 25 players for the whole footballing year. A transfer window opens on December 31st for a month for players with less than four appearances. In Thailand this would create a welcome stability and a more level playing field. If a team is promoted and start their TPL season well, they could develop their best talent rather than being financially compelled to offload them in the transfer window to sit on a big club’s bench rather than being carefully nurtured.

Unlike England, Spanish reserve teams play in the lower divisions. This effectively already happens in Thailand with clubs who use teams they have control over to “park” foreign and youth players. The Spanish model would create transparency and more equality, slightly reducing the power of “the third hand.”

To avoid manipulation of Spanish teams only under 23 players can switch between first and second teams, and first team players cannot play in the reserve team as they do in England, for example when recovering from injury. This would also work well in Thailand as SEA Games players would have more currency and profile. It would need strong oversight from the national coach, but that is a direction Schafer is clearly comfortable with.

Spanish League Winners since the formation of the EPL in 1992: 5

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Attendances
The average is 30,537, four thousand less than the EPL and some 15,000 less than the Bundesliga. Barcelona’s average of 83,850 drops by 11,000 to Real Madrid and 38,000 to third placed Athletico Madrid; another aspect of the Big Two dominance. The poorest supported team, Racing Santander, averaged 14,000. The lowest EPL average of QPR is 17,000 and the Bundesliga’s lowest average, Frieburg, is 22,000. In Thailand officially Buriarm average 14,000 fans, Muang Thong 11,000 and Sisaket 7,000. The smallest official average attendance was TOT with 1,000 and the average for the league was 4,500. Having been to many of the TPL games this season those numbers seem low for Buriram and incredibly high for TOT.

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Media coverage

Spanish clubs sell their rights on an individual basis so Barcelona and Real Madrid generate considerably more income than any English, or smaller Spanish, club allowing
them to dominate in Europe while the rest of the league play for third. Over the past two years, no club has finished within 20 points of either Barcelona or Real Madrid: it has become una cosa de dos – a two-team affair that will soon get worse. Thailand should learn from the Spanish errors and negotiate the next contract to support all members of the league, big and small.

In 2014 Valencia and Atletico Madrid will share just 11 per cent of the new €800 million television deal with Mediapro. But they are comparatively lucky. The other 16 teams will receive 45% between them, while 9% will go to the clubs in Segunda Division, including parachute payments to the relegated sides. The rest, a massive 35%, is reserved for Barca and Madrid, increasing the rich and poor divide.

Foreign Players
Each team can have three non EU players but they can claim citizenship from their relatives’ country or be naturalised after playing in Spain for 5 years. Players from the ACP countries ( Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific) are not counted against non-EU quotas, due to the Kolpak ruling. Thailand’s hard line policy on foreigners starting in March may be in life with the AFC, but further dries up the currently limited talent pool in this young league.

Champions League and UEFA Cup places
The top three teams qualify for the UEFA Champions League and the fourth placed team enter the third qualifying round. The fifth and sixth placed teams qualify for the first round of the UEFA Europa League

Players’ Wages
Messi is the world’s highest paid player, receiving £29.6 million a year, but this season’s player strike highlighted massive financial inequalities. The Association of Spanish Footballers (AFE) demanded players be allowed to break their contracts after three consecutive unpaid months. Players were said to be owed up to £43m in unpaid salaries (or seventeen months of Messi’s salary.) When one players’ pay in less than a year and a half equals the amount every other player is owed in a labour dispute, another straw is placed on the camel’s back.

In Conclusion
Although considered the second best league in Europe, there are plenty of dark clouds on the horizon. Huge disparities in fan bases and access to TV money compares poorly to the burgeoning Bundesliga. In 2014 the Financial Fair play system will apparently acquire some teeth and La Liga needs to be one of the first places to bite down hard. To quote UEFA:

“Spanish health is good from top to bottom.”

…and Oman is a good place to hold a football tournament

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