One of the more peculiar problems faced by countries throughout the developing world is called the “talent drain”. Both young and not so young people who have enjoyed higher education and/or are performing specialized jobs are increasingly lured abroad to countries where things like inflation, homicide rates or lack of asphalted roads don’t get in the way of one’s hopes and aspirations.
Off go the brightest and smartest: health care workers, engineers, economists, researchers, professors, journalists, businessmen, and so on ad nauseum. Some don’t even leave for a “better” job. That middle-aged Bangladeshi who delivers your groceries might very well have been a veterinarian back home, and the gentleman who answers your billing questions after your cell phone company shafted you used to be an editor at one of Mexico’s bigger newspapers.
And while the pursuit of happiness is an undeniable and fundamental human right, the countries that depend on these people to improve their suffering economies, inadequate infrastructure and miserable health care systems are left to do less with less.
In similar fashion Spain, which, crisis not withstanding, cannot in any shape or form be considered a developing country, has suffered a significant talent drain of its own over the last few years. If you are young, moderately to very talented, and desire to win big and shiny things and/or earn a lot of money by kicking round black and white objects into football nets, more often than not your best option for success is to leave Iberian shores and fulfill your dreams abroad.
The list of footballers who have abandoned La Liga over the last three years is nothing to scuff at. It includes (but is not limited to) men like, Juan Mata, David Silva, David De Gea, Michu, Radamel Falcao, Sergio Aguëro, Javi Martinez, Santi Cazorla, Joaquin Sanchez, Fernando Llorente, Gonzalo Higuain, Raúl Albiol, José Callejon, Jesús Navas, Álvaro Negredo, Iago Aspas, Marc Muniesa, Andrés Palop, Roberto Soldado and, last but not least, our very own Thiago de Alcántara. Then there are the ones who made the jump in previous seasons, like Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Mikel Arteta, or those who are simply on loan in foreign leagues, like Bojan Krkic, Isaac Cuenca and Gerard Deulofeu. The staggering amount of talent that has left the Spanish league could easily form a Champions League challenging squad. And probably another one to win the Europa League.
And it is not just about the players that don’t stay. It is also about the ones that don’t come. The biggest problem is that the Liga’s selling clubs cannot afford to reinvest the transfer fees in their squad, as they are forced to use significant sums of their earnings to service their debts, the total of which runs in the billions. Atlético Madrid sold Falcao for a reported sixty million euros (of which a large part went to the company who owned the rights on the player – food for another article altogether) and replaced him with a hopefully not over the hill David Villa for around two million. Of the hundred and thirty million Valencia have received for selling their crowd favorites year after year they have used about a fifth on replacements.
Of course, if you are very to extremely talented at kicking round black and white objects into football nets and would really like to hear the crowd yell ¡olé! while doing so, you might get offered another option altogether: a move to one of the two European powerhouses still standing on the block, Fútbol Club Barcelona or Real M*drid, institutions where big money and pretty shiny things are pretty much guaranteed. And when I say standing on the block I really mean towering over it and putting all the other little houses in the shade.
Without having the facts at hand (cough, no self-respecting writer does research anyway, cough) I would wager that most summers, together with RM, we outspend all the other teams in the league combined. And we don’t just take the cream of the foreign crop either. In the last three years, Barça relieved Valencia from David Villa and Jordi Alba. And in 2008 we bought Dani Alves and Seydou Keita from Sevilla, while later addding Adriano Correia. Our rivals put their great white hopes on Sergio Canales, before letting him rot in the stands, and went on a domestic shopping spree this summer in which they picked up Isco, who has a dog named Messi, and Illaremendi, whose beautiful name will bask in capital sunlight (see what I did there?).
Indeed, “ungrateful” canteranos aside, we and that other team sure think alike. We are drainers, not drainees, so to speak, always buying more of the exceptional, to the point that we have become two giant peas in an pod that is about to burst. It is true that we have always been bigger, richer and more handsome than the rest. Our stadiums and trophy cabinets can attest to that. It is the logical consequence of being the major teams of the two major cities in Spain. But at least we faced competition. We didn’t win leagues with 100 points. Our forwards did not break scoring records every single year. Draws did not feel like season-threatening defeats because of knowing that it could take months for the other team to drop a point or three. And third- placed teams did not lose the title challenge on the first jornada.
The last nine league championships were won by either the good guys (6) or the bad guys (3). Ain’t no other guy in the picture – maybe a dark horse or two, upon whom the light shined for a quick second before it got tired and bowed out of the race. We also won three Champions League titles during these nine years. To be completely honest, if we continue at this ratio, I don’t really care about the rest. Their mismanagement is not our problem and nor is it our fault.
Valencia built half a stadium and can’t sell the one it has. There are plenty of sponsorless shirts that refuse to contribute to the salaries of the players wearing them. Various clubs in the league are beyond the brink of bankruptcy. They would be better off with chimpansees on their director chairs. Why should we share more TV money with those morons? They’d squander their newfound riches faster than I can say dumbass. Why don’t they find their own banks who never ask for their money back?
Besides, we have to compete with juggernauts like Bayern Munich, PSG, Chelsea, Manchester City and United. I believe Arsenal have set themselves up to be a force within five years, too. In addition, renegotiating the TV rights means that we lose financial ground vis-à-vis M*drid, because they receive more income from other sources than we do.
But also consider this. How great would it be if Valencia could have built around a core of Mata, Silva, Villa, Soldado, Rami, Matthieu and Jordi Alba? If Atletico added a star signing every summer instead of lose one? If Pellegrini had brought Navas and Jovetic to Málaga instead of Manchester? And that’s just the coolness factor. What we really should be asking ourselves is: “Where is the limit?”
Do we want to end up playing in a league where we win every game with three to four goals? Would that be fun on a weekly basis? Will the lack of competition finally bring down the quality of the top two teams, and will we suffer in Europe as a result? I know neither answer nor solution to the questions I ask. I suspect that a more equitable partition of TV-rights is inevitable, but I think that the problem runs deeper.
What I do know is the following. The talent drain is one characteristic of the Third World. Out of control debt is another. The hallmark, however, is the gaping gulf in wealth and opportunities between the haves and the have-nots. Just what that says about a league which only one of two teams will win again this season, I leave up to you.