One familiar foe and two unknown quanities make up the three promoted teams who will add 6 fresh fixtures to Barcelona's schedule in the upcoming season. Here is a look at the cream of what Liga Adelante could offer - Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano and Granada:
Real Betis Balompié S.A.D
Having made sporadic surges up the table and even forays into the Champions League in recent decades, Betis' recurrent financial troubles have been well documented. Even at the moment, the club owes almost €10m in unpaid wages to past and present players, who are taking legal action through their union, an issue that is, quite depressingly, far from unique in Spanish football.
Rated as Spain's 6th most popular club and with a 56000 capacity ground in the (pretty dilapidated it must be said) Estadio Benito Villamarín, Betis are a genuinely big side with the history to boot, but their ongoing struggles at board level are what has kept them from stability. It was little surprise to many when the club entered Ley Concursal, the Spanish equivalent to administration, earlier this season; with media estimating club debt at around €75m. Indeed, one of the more disheartening stories of this past season wasn't just that centre back Miki Roque was diagnosed with pelvic cancer, moreover that Betis could not afford to pay for his treatment and had to rely on donations from supporters to do so - such is the extent of the hole they find themselves in.
This terrible backdrop, though, made all the more impressive the feats of former Betis striker Pepe Mel. The side charged to the title in Mel's first year in charge, with the impressive 45 goal tally of strike force Rubén Castro and Jorge Molina undoubtedly the catalyst for success.
When the two sides met in the Copa del Rey, Barcelona's 5-0 scoreline glossed over what had been a relatively tough challenge by Betis. With aggressive defending and a fantastic performance from 6'3" powerhouse Molina, who made Gabriel Milito look like the second division player in their tussle, the Andalucian side turned in a fine 90 minutes a week later to take the scalp of a relatively strong Catalan side featuring the likes of Messi, Xavi and Pique in the second leg.
Such a performance will certainly encourage the fanbase of Seville's second club that they can more than hold their own in La Liga. Unfortunately, as is the case with many promoted sides due to the dire financial state of Spanish football, Betis will be severely limited in their resources and thus in their potential to compete. Still, having held onto the focal point of the team - the attacking triumvirate of Molina, Castro, and Cameroonian midfield ace Achille Emana; Betis should comfortably consolidate their top division status in the upcoming season.
Another year, another promoted club in complete financial crisis. Unlike the Betis situation, which has been dragging on for the best part of a decade, Rayo's woes came to a head this year, with the revelation that the majority of the squad had gone over a year without seeing a penny. You have to give credit to the players who still did their jobs and finished second with that hanging over their heads.
Coming up just 4 points short of the Champions despite a player strike looking highly likely throughout the Spring is a unique and quite remarkable achievement. Rayo's famously fervid fan-base can now look optimistically to the future after the club was taken over by a local businessman after the season was over. This brought to a close the at times farcical reign of José María Ruiz-Mateos as chairman (a man who got 3 years jail time for 'financial irregularities' with his personal company), but if reports of an outstanding €40m of debt are to be believed, a rosy future could be a long way off the side from Madrid's Vallecas suburb.
Having been in the third tier (Segunda B) as recently as 2007/08, such a rapid ascent to Spain's top table is undoubtedly impressive, but holding on to star men without 100% certainly that their wages will be paid will obviously prove a difficult task. Refreshingly named defender Coke is already off to pastures greener with Sevilla, and with highly touted youngster Lass Bangoura the subject of a rumoured approach from cross-town giants Real, a decimated squad is certainly not part of the recipe for top level success.
Still, with the loan of talented Brazilian wing back Pedro Botelho from Arsenal already secured, things don't look terribly bleak for Rayo. With a Levante-esque combination of sheer luck, diamonds in the rough, and fanatical support, survival is not a mission impossible.
The story of Granada's promotion to the top flight for the first time in 35 years is a very interesting one. Having just gotten out of the third division and facing extinction in Summer of 2009, the club were saved thanks to the Italian businessman Giampaolo Pozzo, a name which should be quite familiar to Barcelona fans. No, Pozzo was not a good Samaritan helping a club in need, he is in fact chairman of Italian side Udinese, whom Barca have been chasing for Alexis Sanchez seemingly for aeons.
Pozzo is reknowned as a shrewd wheeler-dealer - think Harry Redknapp in the boardroom. In Granada, he saw a very simple way to make himself a tidy profit while simultaneously having essentially an Udinese development side which could be playing top quality football in one of the World's best leagues within a few years.
In a totally legal agreement, Udinese sent as many players as possible on loan to Granada this season. As some of these are former La Liga and Serie A starters like 24 goal man Alex Geijo, the results were as you may expect - wholly positive. Not only will Pozzo gain financially from Granada's playoff promotion, but he can also utilise the club as a highly effective 'shop window', displaying on a relatively high stage to potential suitors players who may have rotted on the bench or in the reserves in Italy. The idea is quite ingenious, and you have to wonder why other big football clubs have not experimented with partnerships on this scale before. Barcelona ditching their B side to buy up an alternative in Italy? It sounds unlikely, but the success of the Udinese and Granada pairing could send the message to other clubs that partnerships in this manner are the future of getting first team football to players down the pecking order.
Granada's second leg play-off semi-final against Celta will go down in the annals of Segunda history as a true classic, and is a game I would recommend anyone to try to re-watch. It had everything, with 120 minutes of classy football featuring two penalties and numerous shots slamming agonisingly off the woodwork not enough to separate the two sides, on front a rapturous crowd in the compact Los Carmenes. As you may guess, Udinese loanees like Geijo, Benitez and Orellana were constantly at the the heart of anything positive for the club from the home of the famous Alhambra.
After a crazy penalty shoot-out took them to the final, the away goals victory Granada sealed over Elche to secure promotion must have seemed like a much simpler task in comparison; despite the frenetic pace and, at times, reckless abandon which characterised the two legged play-off finale.
The quality of fresh Udinese loans will certainly be the determining factor in the success of Granada's upcoming year. Pozzo stating that "we put ourselves in Granada because it is a city with a great football potential" certainly sounds encouraging, but they could really go either way - a true Italian job off the back of an influx of Serie A quality or sinking quickly if Pozzo gets bored of his Spanish toy.
On paper, none of the trio should cause Barca much, if any bother next season; but for parity's sake, let's hope these 3 promoted sides can bring something more than debt and Italian profit-seekers to the top division.
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