Javi Martinez's Departure from La Liga Only Strengthens Barcelona & Real Madrid
Maybe it was a pipe dream to assume Athletic Bilbao would keep their fantastic team of last year intact. But Javi Martinez's proposed departure to Bayern Munich has significantly weakened La Liga.
It was reported yesterday that Javi Martinez had joined Bayern Munich for 40 million euros, taking with him another chunk of hope from beyond the top two in Spain.
Both Barcelona and Real Madrid were reportedly offering interested glances, but Martinez's move abroad was of no surprise when the two big guns failed to show Bilbao a firm and respectable bid.
And more than anything, it's a hammer blow to Spanish football and any hope of a significant and consistent fight from the rest of the league.
Last season, Bilbao were one of the teams to stand up to Barcelona, taking a point off Pep Guardiola's men in the pouring rain at the San Mames. It was a glorious occasion to see the fearlessness of a young and adventurous Bilbao side. Their inclusion in the Copa del Rey final was also adding to hope of an unpredictable and exciting future in Spanish football.
But like this latest major exit from La Liga, the final score line in that Copa del Rey final quickly banished all hope from the minds of onlookers. This is still very much Real Madrid and Barcelona's league, and any pretenders to their might will be stripped of their assets with little to show for it.
At this stage, even with a proposed 40 million euros in the bank, what are Bilbao going to do? They run a strict yet admirable policy of only recruiting Basque players. Martinez was the heart of their team last year: no amount of money is going to replace that for them.
But we're so used to seeing La Liga looted every summer. Sergio Aguero parted with Atletico Madrid last season, following in Juan Mata's footsteps to the Premier League. Before that, David Silva joined Manchester City, and now Santi Cazorla has had to leave a seemingly sinking ship at Malaga.
If Barcelona or Real Madrid don't get them, you can be certain that any other major force in Europe will.
There's nothing to build on in terms of a competitive and audience-drawing league. The television revenue is on ongoing problem, one which Sevilla president Jose Maria del Nido is leading a fight against. But even if they are unsuccessful, clubs should still be able to rely on their own talents to force the issue of a better league.
Unfortunately that is not to be, Javi Martinez's move to Germany represents little hope on any of those fronts, while Barcelona and Real Madrid remain the unchallengeable Goliaths in a land where there is no sign of David.
La Liga is struggling to draw in notable and high-profile talent away from the big two. Radamel Falcao's move to Atletico is perhaps one of the exceptions, with every other club having to make their own superstars, only to start the process over again when Barcelona or Real Madrid decide to come calling.
It's exciting and it adds a great deal of sunlight on the futures of clubs like Bayern Munich or Manchester City, but it only further plunges La Liga into darkness.
It would be fantastic for Spanish football if there were to be another Sergio Aguero or Santi Cazorla at one of the other teams, but how long will it be until we know they're something special? The smiles on our faces for their talent would only have begun before they're drawn to frowns upon their impending departures.
Right now, La Liga is simply in a stop-start motion away from the top two.
We talk about teams like Valencia or even Malaga closing that gap, all the while they're shopping in a tier a great number of steps below from Barcelona or Real Madrid's regular shopping markets. But unfortunately, we've seen over the past three years how quickly those gaps are increasing, with Valencia's points totals in third place steadily decreasing and Madrid or Barcelona setting new records.
There is nothing more true in La Liga at the moment than a false dawn, with many potential challengers going the way of Malaga or even Villarreal. At the very best, the winners of the "other league" in Spain are left wandering in the endless desert of third place.
Even if the television revenue problem were to be sorted out, how long will it be before clubs are able to match the reputation of those two at the top? How long before players want to choose the Mestalla as their regular battleground ahead of the Nou Camp or Bernabeu?
Even though neither Barcelona or Real Madrid were able to capture Javi Martinez, they'll undoubtedly lean back with a grin, knowing full well that those irritating clubs below them are not going to reshape La Liga anytime soon.
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