And so it starts. There hasn't even been much of a break for the national team. No sooner had the season finished -- even before the season had finished -- than they were talking about the new signings. In doing so they confirmed a basic and ultimately destructive trend: Madrid and Barcelona not only have the most voracious appetites in Spain, but they are the only ones with the wallets to satisfy those appetites. Sometimes there is not even much of a plan, just an attitude that says: he's good, let's get him before anyone else does.
Meanwhile, the rest largely resist. Resist and look for ingenuous ways to compete; they must work harder at their signings than Madrid or Barcelona. It is not just economic, either. The more Madrid and Barcelona dominate, the more the best players at Spain's other clubs, knowing that they cannot beat them, feel the need to join them -- or leave Spain altogether. The tipping point has been reached, now the seemingly irreversible trend is toward the obliteration of the rest: every time a great player leaves one of the competitors for Madrid or Barcelona, Spanish soccer dies a little more.
You can hardly blame them but in some cases players are too quick to do go to the big two -- as Sergio Canales found out. After all, everyone else's superstars can end up being Real Madrid and Barcelona's squad players and little more. Players that -- and here is the good news -- may soon be released back into the market, either on loan or for sale. Sometimes they are released with one of those cowardly, competing adulterating clauses that says: you can go there and play against everyone else but you can't play against me. But still, it is worth it: their castoffs can be everyone else's key players.
As for the ones that Madrid and Barcelona can't pick up -- after all, there is a limit to squads, even theirs -- they can prove the perfect purchase elsewhere. Just ask Manchester City fans delighted with David Silva. So who are the players available for transfer at Spain's clubs this summer:
Jose Mourinho says he doesn't want Diarra to go. Diarra, though, wants to play -- and that's not going to be easy. Already behind Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso, the arrival of Sahin suggests that it will be even harder for him to play a key role this season. Went off on holiday saying he wanted to leave and has been incommunicado ever since, until Tuesday when he admitted that if he does leave Real Madrid he wants to head back to England. At boardroom level, there will be few resisting the sale of a man signed by the former president and one who Madrid believes will raise €20 million ($32.9M). Although he has admirers, especially in England, that seems ambitious.
Last summer Valencia sold David Villa and David Silva. They didn't, though, sell Mestalla. The team's financial planning is viable now, but until it is able to raise capital against its old stadium and recommence building on the new one, it will need to continue to service its colossal debt through the sale of players, while cutting costs across the board. At the same time, those players are more aware than ever before of the necessity to leave if they are to compete with any regularity. Neither Madrid nor Barcelona have a natural space in their squad for Valencia's outstanding performer this season, but England remains a real possibility -- and it is an idea Mata is open to. Likely to cost around €25 million ($36.4M).
Zaragoza has become adept at committing suicide. Now it looks set to do it all over again. Club captain and the man who rescued them almost single-handedly, Gabi is on the market. Just as Zapater was before him. An all-around central midfielder and genuine leader, Gabi is not even going to cost that much money. Atlético Madrid is interested in bringing him back. With Zaragoza in financial crisis, he could cost as little as €4 million ($5.8M).
Osvaldo made a big impact when he joined Espanyol midway through last season and continued getting goals this year too, finishing the campaign with 13 in just 22 games. Strong and aggressive, mobile and a powerful finisher, the Argentine has been watched by a handful of English clubs, including Spurs -- and Espanyol could do with the money. President Daniel Sanchez Llibre's departure may slow the process down but most anticipate a sale in the region of €15 million ($21.8M).
No sooner had Almería confirmed its relegation than it made the players travel to games by coach -- even though it's over eight hours to Madrid. It was time to save money any way it could. That will of course continue with the classic reaction to relegation as Almería sell off its best players. Diego Alves has already joined Valencia and the most sought-after player in Almería's squad is Piatti. Extremely skillful, scorer of two wonderful goals against Sevilla, he is still only 22 and, given protection and freedom, could prove an exceptional player for one of Spain's "other" clubs. Atlético, who will lose Aguero and Forlán, are interested. Fee: around €10 million ($14.5M).
Halfway through the season, Aguero renewed his contract and announced that he would be staying at Atlético Madrid but since when has that actually meant anything? As the season came to an end with Aguero on 20 goals he announced his intention to leave and claimed that during contract negotiations Atlético's owners had agreed to listen to offers should anyone match the €45 million ($65M) buy-out clause (which, suspiciously, had dropped from €60M/$87M to €45M). Outrageously talented, Aguero could be one of the world's very best players and clearly thinks that he has to go elsewhere to fulfill that ambition. Says he would not rule out England, but would prefer to stay in Spain and told Atlético that he wants them to listen to all bids, no matter where they come from. In other words, he wants to go to Real Madrid -- as teammate Tomas Ujfalusi confirmed. Atlético meanwhile claims that there is an Anti-Madrid clause and has piled on the moral blackmail. This could drag on but, with Aguero holding firm, a move across the city looks the most likely outcome.
Not long ago, there was talk of Matilla being the next bright young thing to come through the Villarreal youth system but opportunities have been few this season -- he has made just three starts and, at 23, he is no longer so young as to want to keep waiting. A midfielder who had been watched by Manchester United while playing for Villarreal B and Spain's U-21s, one of Pep Guardiola's closest confidants told the Barcelona manager that he had seen a kid at Villarreal B who reminded him of Xavi, but now Villarreal are prepared to let him go. Coach Juan Carlos Garrido is no longer so enamored by him, not least because of a perceived lack of aggression and character. Would be very cheap and could prove an attractive option for smaller clubs, especially as he is not likely to cost much more than €2 million ($2.9M). A move would give him first team football, at last too. A good fit for Getafe as they seek to replace Dani Parejo?
Easy to say with hindsight, but then people were saying it at the time too: Sergio Canales should not have gone to Real Madrid. Things were always likely to be difficult for him, arresting his rapid development as stars lined up ahead of him, and perhaps he should have chosen Villarreal or Sevilla instead. Now, he might be able to: both are interested and Mourinho has given Canales few opportunities, considering him lacking in competitive edge. Madrid is, though, insisting that it wants to keep him and will only accept a loan deal or, if it does sell him, a deal that gives them a buyback option. Not keen to leave Spain. If Madrid was to sell it would, probably unrealistically, expect around €10 million -- more than it spent to get him last summer.
Thiago's dad says he is not going anywhere and the line coming out of Barcelona is that they see Thiago taking a big step up this season. He has certainly impressed on those rare occasions when he has been given an opportunity this season. But still the suspicion won't go away. Barcelona are still keen to sign Cesc Fabregas and that could have a decisive impact on Thiago for two key reasons: firstly, it places another player between him and a role in the starting XI and, secondly, it means that they need to find money or include players in a deal if they are going to have any chance at all of convincing Arsenal. There have been suggestions too that Pep Guardiola remains unconvinced about Thiago and contract negotiations with his father were far slower than anyone anticipated earlier this season. Even Johan Cruyff said the unthinkable this week: the youth system is there to produce players for the first team and to make money.
Talented but occasionally ill-disciplined and not really the kind of player to thrive under Unai Emery -- the coach that demands reliability, consistency and discipline above all else. Get him comfortable and get him mentally right and he could be a great player, though -- as he proved for long stretches last season. A midfield playmaker with a good shot on him and a wonderful range of passing, he has been watched closely before by Everton and a handful of other English clubs. Can control the flow of the game like few midfielders in Spain. The question is: at around €12 million ($17.4M), will anyone consider him worth the risk?