It is not exactly a secret that the overall economic situation in Spain is very shaky. The country has allowed itself to live above its means for quite some time (just like in so many other countries, including the U.S.) so the situation is simply not sustainable. Budgets have to be tightened, expenditures have to be reduced, and loans cannot easily be had. In this context, spending money on ‘luxuries’ such as sports at the elite level, or on expensive forms of art and culture, is no longer so easy.
So not long after we celebrated Barcelona’s Champions League successes in football and handball, together with top performances also by Real Madrid in football and Ciudad Real in handball, doomsday prophecies are beginning to be heard. Of course, these top clubs may be the ones who can hold out the longest, whereas the smaller, less resourceful clubs are the ones who already feel the budget crunch.
It is almost too easy to find reports in Spanish media about handball clubs in the top league ASOBAL who have not been able to pay their players for several months and have debts to tune of a couple of million Euros. Some clubs have been given an ultimatum and a deadline; unless the debts are paid off, the clubs will be forced to move down from the top division. This includes, among others, the traditional top club Granollers, which was the positive surprise of the past season, at least in terms of game performances.
There is not exactly a line of clubs waiting to take up positions that may become vacant. Both the clubs that were relegated and those who narrowly failed to gain promotion seem unable to meet the requirements for a season at the top level. In any event, some experts suggest that a consolidation into a smaller top division might be the healthiest approach in any case.
So what about the two top clubs, Barcelona and Ciudad Real? One might not be ready to believe that Barcelona would have any financial problems. But attracting the players needed to form such a strong team is an expensive affair, so the football section of the club incurred major losses. There is now a decision that the previously generous support for other sports, such as handball, will suffer a major cut-back. What this might mean for the handball team’s ability to retain and recruit star players is uncertain.
But the situation seems even more acute for Ciudad Real. This club is all about handball. And it is a club from a small town with a very modest basis for a team at the international top level. (Some people have mistakenly thought that it is a Madrid club, but Ciudad Real is a town of about 75.000 inhabitants, located 200km south of Madrid). It has a rich history and was once prominent, but that was a few hundred years ago. And its most famous personality, together with the club’s owner Domingo Diaz de Mera, is none other than Don Quixote…! And now it has become known that the clubs totally dominant sponsor is backing out.
While some might think that this just means that Diaz de Mera will have to thrown in more of his own money, these days seem to be over. In fact, there are instead reports about a merger with some well-known football club, initially Atletico Madrid. And then suddenly there are indications that the football archrival in the capital, Real Madrid might also be interested. Real already has a strong basketball section in addition to the football team. Perhaps it seems that a club from Ciudad Real fits in better with Real than Atletico Madrid. (As it happens, the football training facilities for Real Madrid are named precisely Ciudad Real Madrid…)
It will be interesting to follow these developments. It may be that both Barcelona and Ciudad Real will be able to survive as the dominant handball clubs of Spain in some form. But being dominant in a much shakier ASOBAL may no longer be such a good environment, and it may not translate into remaining dominant by European standards. One topic of speculation, with different opinions attached, is that at least the ability to recruit well-known players from other countries may be substantially reduced. While this may initially lower the quality, it would mean a major increase in opportunities for young Spanish players. The beneficiary might then be the Spanish national team, and Heiner Brand’s concerns and ideas regarding Germany may end up being tested in Spain. We will see how it all develops!