Bottom team could still be promoted

icon spainfans8 March ~ The economic crisis can sometimes be of benefit to football fans. In Spain, the recession has levelled the teams below the top and is producing, so far, one of the most exciting seasons in recent history. By March one or two teams have usually created a big gap between themselves and the rest at the top of the Segunda División (second tier), effectively ending the automatic promotion race with three months to go. But this season, even leaders Eibar can't guarantee their presence in the play-offs. A bad run of results, and they could even be battling relegation.

After 28 games, the table is astonishingly tight. So far, no one has won more than 50 per cent of the games, there's only a six-point difference between the last play-off spot and relegation and only 19 between Eibar at the top and bottom-place Girona, when the average at this stage of the season used to be around twice as much. By comparison, 19 points is exactly the distance between Leicester City and Nottingham Forest (first and fifth) in the English Championship. This means that, with only 14 games left, just about every team has a real chance of both getting promoted or relegated.

The causes of this "equality" are primarily economic but not due to an effective distribution of resources. Basically, everyone is as poor as their opponents. While the parachute system allows English clubs to soften the impact of dropping out of the top tier, in Spain the negative effects are much greater. The average TV income in Primera is €14 million (£11.6m) while in Segunda it's usually around €2m, although the figures are never fully disclosed. It's little less than a matter of life or death for most. Therefore, clubs routinely overspend to keep top-tier status, and when they fail to do so they're forced to dismantle their teams and start from scratch; wages are impossible to maintain as budgets are cut by more than half.

Teams with big markets and loyal fans, such as Deportivo La Coruña and Real Zaragoza, tend to fill their stadiums easily and keep decent players. As TV contracts in Spain are handled by each club individually, and not as a whole, some get players to sign a form of parachute clause that guarantees they won't suffer from drastic income reduction. But the clubs also know that, if they take a gamble and fail to clinch promotion, their future may be at stake. Oviedo, Tenerife and Alavés are all examples of clubs that failed to return to the top level and then plummeted through the divisions.

Bringing in the English system that grants relegated teams a certain economic advantage has been widely discussed in Spain, but the Segunda División teams have never really challenged the status quo that gives Real Madrid and Barcelona a huge percentage of the money no matter what. Javier Tebas, the LFP president, said once that "every league has its rationale. We cannot forget that Madrid and Barça are our engine houses. If they are weak in Europe, the rest of us are weakened as well". While the logic of his argument could be questioned, things are not likely to change in the near future. But at least most fans welcome a Segunda División as interesting as this one, in which every team is likely to stay in the fight for something until May. Antonio Mateo

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