Spain’s elite football clubs were forced into a fire sale of players after La Liga responded to their coronavirus-induced losses by implementing a more than €600m cut on the spending limits it imposes on teams.
Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, Spanish football’s top division, praised teams like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid for their “responsible” actions to drastically reduce spending on transfer fees and imposing steep salary cuts in recent months.
These measures were seen as a response to the pandemic, which has led to empty stadiums as well as discounts to broadcasters due to the suspension of games during spring lockdowns.
But Mr Tebas revealed on Tuesday that the cost-cutting actions of Spanish clubs were partly forced by La Liga and changes to the league’s rules on team spending.
There are so-called Financial Fair Play regulations across European football, designed to prevent clubs overspending on players in the pursuit of success. But in Spain, where there has been a long history of insolvencies among clubs, football’s authorities went further in 2013 by introducing an additional set of “economic controls”.
Each season, La Liga’s financial analysts set a specific spending limit for every team, based on factors such as turnover and debt.
Last season, before the pandemic, La Liga’s 20 teams were allowed to spend close to €3bn combined on transfer fees and player wages. On Tuesday, the league said this limit had been cut to €2.33bn this season, in response to the revenue shortfalls faced by Spanish clubs in the pandemic.
The rule change helps to explain the fire sale of players by Spanish clubs over the summer. At Barcelona — where its spending limit dropped to €383m from €656m last season — the club responded by offloading veterans such as Luis Suárez and Ivan Rakitic.
La Liga clubs slashed transfer spending by 66 per cent to €438m this year, from €1.29bn in the 2019-20 season. By contrast, the Premier League’s transfer outlay fell just 23 per cent to €1.32bn.
“I’m not saying the Premier League is irresponsible,” said Mr Tebas. “But what I am surprised about is the volume of transfers [at English clubs]. What we are trying to do is ensure our industry is sustainable, not just this season but in future seasons.”
Asked if La Liga’s measures would damage the competitiveness of Spanish clubs in European tournaments, such as the prestigious Champions League, Mr Tebas said fans should prepare for a “transitional year” for their teams and that “we can’t be as demanding this year as we have been in the past”.