Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why Are Clubs Missing a Trick over Spain's Bargain Buys?

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why Are Clubs Missing a Trick over Spain's Bargain Buys?

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Collomosse Football Correspondent

SWANSEA'S last match in European football ended in an 8-0 defeat in Monaco in 1991 but their calculated gamble in the Spanish transfer market means they have their sights on a more successful return to continental competition.

Michu, the club's attacking midfielder, has been one of the stars of the Premier League season. Fifteen goals, technique, intelligence and energy at a cost of just [pounds sterling]2.2million, the modest sum required to release the 26-year-old from his contract at Rayo Vallecano.

After scoring three times in two matches against Arsenal, Michu will seek to inflict similar damage in the first leg of Swansea's Capital One Cup semifinal at Chelsea tomorrow night. Those managers, such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, who wonder how their scouts missed Michu should, however, draw comfort from the amount of low-cost talent available in the Spanish game.

It is tempting to think that nearly all of the players worth buying in La Liga are at Barcelona and Real Madrid, as well as other traditional powerhouses like Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla. To follow that thought would be a big mistake.

Terry Gibson, the former Tottenham and Manchester United forward, worked as a scout in Spain for Bolton and Manchester City from 2004 until 2007, recommending Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Petrov and Javier Garrido to City, and he retains close links with the game in that country.

He believes the depth of talent there, coupled with the financial weakness of many of its clubs, make it an ideal market for the Premier League -- and he cannot understand why more do not exploit it.

"It's such a good place to go, not just because of the quality of the players but the relatively low prices you can recruit them for," Gibson said.

"Outside the big two, there just isn't much money in Spanish football. Atletico managed to keep Falcao in the summer but they barely spent anything, while Valencia made a profit on transfers in the summer.

"The economic situation means that clubs in Spain are desperate for the pounds from the Premier League. The coverage of Spanish football in the UK means that it's so easy to see the players there -- there are three matches on most weekends. Then, if you like what you see, it's a short flight to go and check on them in person.

"Look at a club like Real Betis. They're fifth in La Liga and they're punching well above their weight, and a number of their players are out of contract at the end of the season.

"It's a similar story at Levante, who are sixth and have some really good players who are easily within reach of Premier League clubs.

"Take Betis midfielder Jose Canas.

He's 25, he's having a very good season and he's probably paid only about [pounds sterling]5,000 a week, which is nothing to most Premier League clubs but is standard in Spain. …

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