DUBAI: The smile on Javier Tebas’ face, even before the question had been completed, was telling.
The president of LaLiga was once again asked to address the notion that Spain’s top division had lost some of its lustre in recent years following the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid in 2018, and Lionel Messi from Barcelona, in the summer of 2021.
Tebas told Arab News: “Although they went to different teams, Messi to PSG (Paris Saint-Germain) and Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, their (league’s) popularity has not increased. Ligue 1 and Serie A are similar. LaLiga remains top.”
LaLiga returns to action on Dec. 29 with two fixtures that see Girona host Rayo Vallecano and Athletic Bilbao visit Real Betis. The following two days will see the completion of the season’s 15th round of matches.
Messi may be the name on everyone’s lips after his glorious World Cup win with Argentina, while Ronaldo has made the news for a series of setbacks starting before Qatar 2022 had even kicked off, but for LaLiga it is business as usual.
Real Madrid and Barcelona remain arguably the two most popular teams in the Middle East region and the profile of Spanish football’s top division is, according to Tebas, as strong as ever, and not just because of the big two.
He said: “The popularity level is the same as in Latin America. There is a lot of talk about Atletico Madrid, about Valencia, Sevilla. The popularity is increasing worldwide, but especially here in the Middle East, and in South American countries, in Latin American countries. It is at the same level.”
Tebas was speaking to Arab News while on a trip to Dubai, during which the LaLiga signed a joint venture agreement with Galaxy Racer — one of the world’s leading esports, gaming, and content platforms — to raise the profile of the Spanish brand in the Middle East and North Africa, and Asian regions.
The deal is expected to generate more than $3.16 billion, with each party holding a 50 percent stake.
It will also help LaLiga boost its audience in the two regions — which have more than 1.3 billion people under the age of 30 — by granting broadcast and media rights in the 29 countries covered by the deal.
At the inking of the agreement, Tebas was keen to highlight that such partnerships were not agreed in a matter of days, weeks, or even months.
“In Dubai there has been a LaLiga office since 2014,” he said at the Investopia conference taking place at the Palace Hotel in Downtown Dubai. “The agreement with Galaxy Racer has been obtained after spending seven years here, revealing confidence in the Arab world.
“Each country is different, that’s why we have more than 120 people working outside of Spain,” he added.
The Spanish league’s presence in the region is more than just a commercial one, with LaLiga Academy UAE established in 2017 and located at Dubai Sports City.
The program has trained more than 2,500 aspiring male and female footballers, follows LaLiga’s playing methodology, and is overseen by its UEFA-Pro certified coaches.
The mission is to unearth local talent and provide career paths into the professional game, potentially at LaLiga clubs.
Tebas said: “The next step will be to have these schools for children in Saudi Arabia.”
Over the last two years, LaLiga’s president has become one of the most vocal opponents of the failed European Super League project, and those who might hope to see it resurrected at some time in the future.
“We are against the Super League and all of European football is against a Super League because this would be just giving money to only some clubs in Europe. The rest of the structure of football in Europe will lose a lot of money,” he added.
Speaking at Investopia, he conceded that while certain issues in European football needed to be addressed, it must be done in conjunction with UEFA and other existing authorities and federations.
He said: “For more than 50 years we have created an economic football ecosystem balanced between national and European leagues, a model of success.
“Obviously some issues need to be corrected, but it is based on strong domestic leagues in their territories and strong international competition such as the Champions League.
“There are things to correct but the fundamental model has worked. And what is being talked about now will change a successful model.”
Tebas pointed out that the football pyramid did not exist simply to serve Europe’s elite.
“Most of the players in this ecosystem compete in national leagues. Professional football is not just big clubs or players, it is hundreds of professional clubs, hundreds of clubs with thousands of players, whose families live off football. This (European Super League) will destroy jobs, economic income.
“The existing model is already operating very well in the Champions League, so there’s no reason whatsoever to change it,” he added.
On concerns that Barcelona had pulled financial levers to allow the club to raise money from future earnings to fund several high-profile signings during the summer, Tebas said: “In order to buy these players, they had to sell 700 million euros ($743 million) in assets, and they will get 130 million euros per year. In the case that they couldn’t have sold their assets for 700 million euros, they wouldn’t have been authorised to purchase these players.
“They have to work it out in the salaries, but actually they are in a good financial position.”
Despite Spain’s painful World Cup exit at the hands of Morocco, Tebas has little doubt over the health of the nation’s clubs and the talent at LaLiga.
“They (LaLiga clubs) have already won a lot of Champion Leagues and a lot of Europa Leagues, so they will continue winning and winning.
“In the 21st century they have won 35 European titles, the (English) Premier League 13, and the French league, zero.
“In the last 10 years, 60 percent of the European titles went to LaLiga. And last year, from the four Champions League semi-finalists, two were Spanish, Villarreal and Real Madrid. And the champions were Real Madrid.
“The Ballon d’Or went to Karim Benzema, and the Golden Boy (award) to Gavi. LaLiga is top,” he added.
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