La Liga likely to be a two-horse race

Madrid, July 7 (IANS) The imminent signing of Real Sociedad's Spain Under-21 international midfielder Asier Illaramendi for Real Madrid has once again thrown into the spotlight the worrying imbalance in Spain's La Liga.

Illaramendi is expected to put pen to paper on a deal with Real Madrid before this Thursday in a deal worth 30 million euros to become Madrid's third signing of the summer along with his Under-21 companion Isco, who joined on a similar fee from Malaga, and full back Javier Carvajal, reports Xinhua.

These transfers, along with Madrid's decision to pay six million euros to retain the services of Brazilian loanee Casimiro, mean that Real Madrid have spent 72 million euros so far this summer.

La Liga champions FC Barcelona have so far only made one signing but they spent big to bring Brazilian ace Neymar to the Camp Nou Stadium on a deal between 50-70 million euros and more signings are sure to come in the coming weeks. This contrasts sharply with the experience of the remaining 18 clubs in Spain's top flight, starting with third place Atletico Madrid, who have sold top scorer Radamel Falcao to Monaco for 60 million euros, while as mentioned above, fourth placed Real Sociedad are on the point of losing their best player to Real Madrid, who last season finished 29 points above them.

Last season almost bucked a trend of Barcelona and Madrid running away with the league, given that Atletico Madrid finished just nine points behind second place Real Madrid and 24 behind Barca. Saying that, Madrid scored 103 goals and Barca 115: 33 and 45 more than the third highest scorers or the season, Real Sociedad, and 38 and 50 more than Atletico. Barca and Madrid didn't just win games, they won by big margins.

The 2011-12 season saw Valencia finish third, 30 points behind second place Barcelona and 39 behind that season's champions, Madrid. In 2010-11, Valencia were again third, 21 points behind second and 25 off the champions while the previous year, Valencia were again third, 25 points off second place and 28 off the title. This summer Valencia finished fifth but debts of over 400 million euros mean virtually their entire squad is up for sale.

Malaga, who finished sixth, have seen their squad dismantled with Joaquin, Martin Demichelis, Roque Santa Cruz, Javier Saviola and coach Manuel Pellegrini all leaving while seventh placed Betis have seen an exodus with key players Benat Etxebarria and Jose Canas among the departures.

Rayo Vallecano produced a heroic season to finish eighth but half of their squad including top scorers Leo Baptistao and Piti have gone while ninth placed Sevilla have been forced to sell star winger Jesus Navas to Manchester City with striker Alvaro Negredo is likely to follow him to England.

The only club apart from Barca and Madrid to spend over five million euros on a player is Athletic Club Bilbao, who spent between 8-11 million euros on buying Benat from Betis and four million euros on former Osasuna striker Kike Sola but Athletic only have the money because last season midfielder Javi Martinez joined Bayern Munich for 40 million euros and this season striker Fernando Llorente left for free after deciding against signing a new deal.

It seems almost certain that the gap between Barca and Madrid and the rest of the league will be at least 20 points if not more this coming season. The fact that Barca and Madrid have for the past few years earned between them over 50 percent of the money paid for TV rights in La Liga is a major factor in this imbalance while the overall effects of the economic crisis are also a factor as attendances have dropped in almost all of Spain's grounds, a fact not helped by having 10 different kick-off times to allow TV to show every game live.

Last year saw Spain's Congress confirm that clubs owe 752 million euros to the treasury and although that has probably fallen over the past year, it has done so at the expense most clubs losing their best players.

Valencia were crowned the 2003-04 league champions. Since then the title has been shared between Barca and Madrid. Given the current situation there is no way the two horse race will change.

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