As an Englishman living in Spain, it is a pleasure to be able to watch La Liga as much as I can, and keep up to date with one of the greatest leagues on earth. For me, it is a great league and one that certainly competes against the Premier League. In fact, Real Madrid and Barcelona are quite a distance ahead of their counterparts in England. However, Spanish football has been deeply affected by the crisis. Whilst Malaga may have rich new owners, and Real Madrid can rely on help, many clubs are simply fighting for survival. Erratic spending whilst the times were good have put clubs either in administration or on the verge of it. Players in teams such as Rayo Vallecano have gone months without getting paid. Valencia has severe debts and has only survived as a club due to the sales of David Silva and David Villa. Their problem is that they spent €300 million building a new stadium without selling the old one. For now, they remain in La Mestalla, although the new stadium is in an advanced stage of construction. Before Christmas, there was special report on the terrible financial state of Spanish football. It’s clear that the high wages and demand for success has strained many clubs, who are now struggle to pay unmanageable debts.
Living in Zaragoza it is hard not to keep up to date with the local team. Many people in Zaragoza will proudly say that Zaragoza is one of the biggest teams in Spain, and should be competing against the best. Since their famous victory against Arsenal in the 1995 European cup winners’ cup final, the club have had some success, with two Copa del Rey wins in 2001 and 2004. In 2006, they had a team that boasted some of the best players in La Liga, with Diego and Gabriel Milito, Pablo Aimar and D’Alessandro. However, since their relegation in 2008, they have struggled greatly. Although they won promotion at their first attempt, they have not exactly settled down in La Liga. They have been flirting with relegation ever since they returned to the top flight, with last year being particularly close; a victory against Levante on the final day of the season saved them.
Part of the problem has been the fact that they have been in administration, and owe over €112 million to their creditors. The board have spent massive sums in the last few years, which includes paying Jermain Pennant €80,000 a week for an unsuccessful spell, which is remembered more for his indiscipline and the rumour that he left his Porche abandoned in the Zaragoza train station, five months after he had left the city. Thanks to poor spending, they have struggled to build a team capable of competing in the top flight.
Last week, I finally made it to la Romareda for the first time this year for the match against Real Betis. Real Zaragoza is currently rock bottom of La Liga, and survival seems highly unlikely, given that they are 12 points off it. Real Zaragoza has had many problems this year, and although they went into the game against Real Betis with a victory away to Espanol, another victory was too much to ask for. Although they started the game brightly, the first goal was always going to be crucial. A poor defensive error allowed Ruben Castro to score on the 41st minute. After that, Zaragoza never really looked like getting back into the game and as Castro scored in the 68th minute, the players and the supporters were resigned to defeat, with many fans leaving the stadium straight after the goal.
Whilst the club may be suffering, the fans are trying their hardest to protest against the president Agapito Iglesias. ‘El movimiento avispa’ (the wasp movement) has been working hard to bring pressure on the president. The manifesto of the movement insists on the continued support for the team, whilst trying to change the clubs infrastructure, and force Agapito to sell the club.
Around the city there is a lot of graffiti, with many walls painted with the slogan ‘Zaragzoa si, Agapito no’. Also, imitating Manchester United’s Green and Gold initiative, the fans go to the match wearing scarfs with Zaragoza’s tradition colours, yellow and black. The group, Salvemos el Real Zaragoza (Lets save Real Zaragoza), have started several initiatives, including La Agapitada, which is a play on words and means ‘whistle against Agapito’. On the 32nd minute of each home match, coinciding with the year the club was formed (1932), the fans blow whistles as a protest against the president. It has been so successful that the President has stopped attending matches. However, it remains to be seen when the club will find new investment. For the fans of Zaragoza, the battle is not for survival in La Liga, but for survival of this big club, which is at the heart of the city.