CAN ANYONE end Barcelona’s recent dominance of La Liga? After a summer of big signings and the announcement of record revenues, Barca look stronger than last year and with Real Madrid enduring a miserable pre-season and Atlético Madrid in transition, it could be a third consecutive title – and nine in 12 – for the Blaugrana.
Of course, Barca will be hoping for a barnstorming UEFA Champions League campaign after four successive quarter-final exits. It is more the way they have gone out of the competition that concerns Barca’s faithful, last season’s dramatic capitulation at Anfield, one year after a similar collapse in Rome, suggested the Spanish champions might be in decline.
Lionel Messi has had a frustrating 2019, seeing his team show little in the way of moral fibre against Liverpool and then, in Argentina’s colours, returning from the Copa America without the trophy he longs for.
Barca have been responsible for two of the most eye-catching transfers of the summer, the € 75 million acquisition of Ajax youngster Frenkie de Jong and the capture of Atlético Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann for € 120 million. In total, Barca have spent € 255 million, but at the same time, they have recouped € 125 million from sales.
Barca announced revenues of € 990 million which means they are getting very close to the € 1 billion they aim to make by 2021. Barca’s wage bill for 2018-19 was a massive € 633 million, so the rationale is clear.
Twenty-two year-old De Jong has made a good start to his Barca career and has been their best player in pre-season. Griezmann, meanwhile, has gradually bedded-in with his new team-mates and makes Barca’s squad even stronger. If Barca do eventually sign Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain, their front-line options will far exceed that of their title rivals’.
And title rivals means Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, who have also been busy since the end of 2018-19. Real had a dismal time in the summer and Zinedine Zidane, who only returned to the Bernabéu in March, increasingly looks like a man who has backed the wrong horse.
Real have spent € 300 million, with Eden Hazard of Chelsea, at € 100 million the headline signing. Real had a poor time by their own standards last season, almost paralysed by the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo. Real have also made a number of signings that have one eye on the future. Luka Jović (Frankfurt, € 60m) and Éder Militão (Porto, € 50m) are both 21 and Rodrygo of Santos (€ 45m) is just 18. Real’s old guard – Ramos (33), Modric (33), Navas (32), Benzema (31) and Marcelo (31) – will need replacing soon, so these investments are also aimed at future-proofing the Real squad. There’s also Gareth Bale, who is obviously unwanted, but the Welshman is in limbo after Real scuppered his move to China. Much will depend on how Hazard settles in at Real. He is very much the star man now, although he did himself no favours by reporting for pre-season training significantly overweight.
Zidane is reputed to be unhappy about the club’s transfer activity – he is keen on luring Manchester United’s mercurial Paul Pogba to Spain – although with € 300 million spent, Real cannot be accused of being over cautious with the cash. Moreover, rumours are building that Zidane is ready to quit Real for the second time.
It’s all change at the Wanda Metropolitano as Atlético Madrid say farewell to some of the stalwarts that have served them well over the past few years. Griezmann, of course, has joined Barcelona, but he has been replaced by Benfica’s exciting 19 year-old striker, João Félix. Veteran defender Diego Godin has joined Inter Milan and Lucas Hernandez has moved to Bayern Munich, an € 80 million sale. Rodri has joined Manchester City for € 70 million. As ever, Atléti have demonstrated their proactive approach to the transfer market, cashing-in on players who are in demand and identifying striking talent. They spent € 261 million in the summer, but received more than € 300 million from sales.
It’s difficult to see beyond the big three as possible champions, and even then, hard to see the title going anywhere other than Barcelona. If 2018-19 salaries are anything to go by, Barca should finish on top – they exceeded Real’s budget by around € 70 million in 2018-19 and Atléti’s by some € 350 million. Real and Barca account for 45% of La Liga’s total wage bill.
Other clubs like Valencia and Sevilla will have their moments this season, but in terms of financial clout, they are way behind the big three. There’s been plenty of big transfers this summer, with La Liga spending around € 1.5 billion in the market. The Spanish window closes on September 2 and there’s a gaggle of big names who are still available. There will be no competition from English clubs as their window has closed, so the big clubs could still flex their wallets over the next fortnight, which could change any pre-season forecasts. Or maybe not.