The Other challengers to FC Barcelona's bid for the fourth Liga.

VALENCIA, SPAIN - AUGUST 27: Roberto Soldado of Valencia celebrates after scoring during the La Liga match between Valencia and Racing de Santander at Estadio Mestalla on August 27, 2011 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

The end of the summer transfer window and the beginning of a new season is always exciting because it gives fans something to talk about. Football of course is the talk, and the subject is of the new reinforcements that teams have bought to challenge for silverware. Although La Liga is widely regarded as a polarized league in which two teams, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, are the only title contenders, there is reason to believe that this duopoly can be altered to include a third and fourth contender.

In round one, FC Barcelona thrashed Villareal 5-0 while Real Madrid gave Zaragoza a 6-0 thumping. These two matches are believed to be the straws that broke the camels back. Within days there was clamor over the economic injustice that exist between the top two and the rest of La Liga. Jose Maria del Nido, Sevilla's president, lead the charge for seeking financial parity, and he began his campaign to such ends by shutting out the top two clubs from negotiating for TV rights for the whole league. Although it is true that these sides hold enormous advantages in fiscal power, spending power doesn't necessarily mean power on the field. In football, the most expensive squads don't always win the trophies and the fact of the matter is that while Del Nido is complaining, there are currently two squads in La Liga that can put a serious damper on the plans of the top two's title aspirations. The two challengers who, if they manage to upset any one of the top two, can tilt the balance in favor of the other, are, debt-ridden Valencia CF, and Atletico Madrid.

 

Of all the teams in La Liga, the squads that have historically been always in the shadows of Real Madrid and Barcelona have been Atletico Madrid with it's 9 La Liga's and Valencia CF. The latter is the only team besides the top two, to win league in the past decade. In terms of revenue power, these clubs are also ahead of the other squads in La Liga, although well behind FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Therefore it is a correct assessment to believe that if a 3rd or 4th power will emerge in League, it will be these two squads.

 

Although Valencia CF is a club that is heavily in debt and has been forced to sell players such as Villa, Silva, and Mata, it still boasts some of the best up and coming talent in La Liga. Guaita and Diego Alves are the two custodians for the club. Guaita is from the cantera of Valencia while Alves is an acquisition from relegated Almeria. Perhaps where Valencia has strengthened the most in the off-season has been in defense. Since Marchena and Albiol where sold, Valencia was fragile defensively. Adil Rami, a French international, was bought from Ligue 1 champions Lille for 6 million, but even he seemed to not solve Valencia's defensive problems, as they started the season barely able to beat Racing Santander 4-3. To remedy the defensive problems, Valencia once again dipped into the market on the last day of the transfer window and bought Victor Ruiz, the ex-espanyol and U-21 defender from Napoli. Victor Ruiz and Adil Rami are yet to play together but they are expected to be a better pair of Center backs than what Valencia has had to improvise with for the past seasons. In midfield Valencia has some of the best talent around. Pablo Hernandez is in the mid-stage of his career and he is expected to get into the lineup more often now that Mata and Silva are gone. Last season the revelation signing for Valencia was Tino Costa, who was acquired from French team Montpellier and had quite an impressive season. This year Valencia have also reinforced in midfield with the acquisition of Pablo Piatti who was also bought from Almeria and can also play as a striker. Dani Parejo was acquired from Getafe, Parejo was once regarded as one of the best talents in Real Madrid Castialla but it's still to early to tell if he can revive his career in Valencia since he has yet to play. Another player who was acquired, on-loan from Real Madrid, that hopes to revive his career is Sergio Canales. Canales was the most promising youngster in La Liga two season ago when he was snapped up by Real Madrid, but due to his failure to break through in a team such as Real, has been loaned out to Valencia. Valencia seem to have a love affair with ex-Madrid talent. Ex-Merengue Roberto Soldado was also acquired from Getafe last season, and has seemed to have adapted rather well to the Mestalla outfit. Soldado filled the void left by the departure of David Villa. Valencia have acquired other strikers in the form of Jonas and Aduriz, but they have seemed to have lost their starting place as Valencia usually opts for a one striker formation. However, in Valencia's cantera they do have one of the most promising young strikers in La Liga with an exceptional strike rate, named Paco Alcacer. At 18 he is still considered a raw talent but with his knack for scoring goals this could very well be his debut season with Valencia. All in all, not a bad squad for a team with over 500 million Euro of debt. Perhaps the team could be further improve if the Nou Mestalla was finished since with it's improvement of 20,000 seats to the capacity of their current venue, the revenue would also increase exponentially. It also wouldn't hurt Valencia's cause if they actually had a shirt sponsor.

 

Perhaps the best poised squad to be the third power in La Liga is Atletico Madrid. For starters they do have the third highest revenue in La Liga with around a 124 million intake. This is small in comparison to Europe as a whole, where they place 17th. These numbers are calculated by accounting firm, Deloitte. However, Atletico has the potential to increase its revenue drastically in the immediate future. How immediate and by what means? Well in 2012 they will move from the Vicente Calderon with its fifty-four thousand seat capacity to Estadio La Peineta which will see total available seating increase to seventy-three thousand. Revenue is thus expected to increase for Atletico in the near future which will no doubt be used to make their squad more competitive. As we have seen many times in other leagues, big teams have big stadiums from which they extract revenue to pay more competitive wages. With more competitive wages, better talent can be attracted and so Atletico is on the right course. Atletico also has a shirt sponsor in Kyocera which helps them bring in revenue from other sources.

 

In terms of strengthen of squad, Atletico seem a very solid unit. Godin and Filipe Luiz where the acquisitions to the defense from last year and with a season gone they should improve. Receiving his first call up for the Spanish senior side is U-21 starting defender, Alvaro Dominguez who is now a regular first team member at Atletico after having progressing through the ranks. Miranda was also purchased from Sao Paulo but his role is expected to be more of a reserve center back. The right flank of the defense has also been strengthened in this past transfer window with the acquisition of Silvio from Braga. With these acquisitions Atletico's defense should prove more sturdy than the house of cards it use to be in the previous campaigns. In midfield, Atletico has also strengthened very well with the recall of Eduardo Salvio from his loan spell at Benefica. Gabi, an ex-Atletico player, was bought from Zaragoza. What he brings to Atletico is over ten years of top flight experience as a defensive midfielder. Gabi is also a free-kick and penalty specialist. One of the most surprising acquisitions was secured on loan, Diego of Bundesliga side, Wolfsburg. Diego is one of those players that has not found a niche in any team throughout his career, except Werder Bremen, and has now chosen to try his luck at Atletico. It will be interesting to see what type of impact he has on the team and in La Liga by seasons end. In this past window Atletico sold the ageing Forlan and young striker Sergio Aguero. There was a fear that Atletico would loose it's punch with the sale of such influential players but this isn't the case. Atletico where able to secure Adrian Lopez, the top scorer of the U-21 tournament which he won with Spain, on a bossman from relegated La Coruna. Later in the window they payed around 40 million to secure the signature of Radamel Falcao who had a spectacular season with Porto,with whom he won the Europa League. Radamel and Adrian are sure to make a partnership that is equally as fearsome, if not more so, than that of the departed Forlan and Aguero.

 

Taking everything into account, it is likely that Atletico will be the third force in La Liga by mid-decade, since they currently have a decent base of players, and are making all the right fiscal decisions to ensure that they can become an even more competitive squad. There is no doubt that eventually Atletico will be poised to launch a serious campaign for La Liga in the coming years. Valencia is a team that is limited by both, it's debt, and it's bad fiscal decisions, since it neither finishes construction of it's new stadium nor has a shirt sponsor. If both these factors were settled we could see Valencia move up the Deloitte ranking from it's current position in 25th place. Valencia situation thus is too unstable to say for sure if they will materialize into a serious institution that can challenge for titles. In the current state of affairs though, Valencia is the best placed among the rest of La Liga squads with the exception of Atletico. Valencia's situation is to unstable to actually say that in the next few years they can actually materialize into a force to be reckoned with.

 

To touch back on the point made by Del Nido, perhaps only once there exists a third and fourth team that can challenge for La Liga and that has enough popular support, will television deals start handing out better contracts. If more popular teams can secure better contracts then their competitiveness will increase via a third way of greater revenue influx. Until then, we have the current situation for the immediate future than won't change much. The path towards a change and towards a more competitive league have been set in motion by perhaps the most ambitious of the lesser squads which is Atletico. They have done the better planning today, to reap the most rewards tomorrow and so in our current frame of time they look to be the most likely squad to be the third force.

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