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Premier League's focus on Spaniards is mutually beneficial

There was a moment during the first half of last season when Lucas Perez was asked what his parents made of the form that saw him closing in on a goal-scoring record at Deportivo, held by the Brazilian striker Bebeto.

"They're just happy to have me around," he replied. He had been away since he was a teenager and spent the previous four years in Greece and Ukraine, the final months there the "worst of my life", but at last he was home. Now less than a year later, he has gone again.

Arsenal made an offer too good to refuse: A big club, Champions League football, the chance to compete for titles, treble the salary, and a transfer fee that Deportivo not only needed but welcomed and that met his buy-out clause: €20 million (S$30.3 million).

As for Arsenal, they got a quick, and skilful forward who scored 17 goals in La Liga last season.

Just ahead of Perez in the goal-scoring charts was Eibar's Borja Baston, on 18. He signed for Swansea City for £15 million (S$26.8 million), where he joins Fernando Llorente, signed from Sevilla.

They are part of a significant exodus from Spain to the Premier League this summer: Manquillo, Nolito, Bravo, Feghouli, Bailly, Negredo… the list goes on.

Deportivo Coruna's Lucas Perez (left) fighting for possession against Atletico Madrid's Diego Godin last year. EPL clubs do not always attract the very best Spanish players.
Deportivo Coruna's Lucas Perez (left) fighting for possession against Atletico Madrid's Diego Godin last year. EPL clubs do not always attract the very best Spanish players. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Spaniards moving to England is nothing new but this is a little different, a pattern that was already present yet has become more apparent.

English clubs, even beyond the Premier League, see in Spain a market that offers a reasonable price-quality relationship, a place for the risk-averse to sign a ready-made solution.

For the best players at Spain's "other" clubs keen to compete and to secure a contract more in keeping with their talent, a clear choice emerged some time ago: Join Real Madrid or Barcelona or go abroad, where the financial and footballing muscle was greater.

England offered opportunities that would otherwise have been denied to players such as David Silva or Juan Mata.

But of this summer's signings, perhaps only Nolito fits that pattern; while each case is different, the rest come largely from a second tier of footballers.

This time, the very best of La Liga have remained in Spain: Real Madrid and Barcelona still have Messi, Ronaldo, Bale and Suarez, while Atletico kept hold of Antoine Griezmann.

It is the "others" who have departed. This is not just a different generation; it is a different level. Attractive, but for other reasons.

English clubs, even beyond the Premier League, see in Spain a market that offers a reasonable price-quality relationship, a place for the risk-averse to sign a ready-made solution.

It is a market in which they have confidence, one that has produced talented players, where development is good, and whose clubs have performed well in Europe, and is still cheaper than the Premier League.

Yet that risk-averse element may mean they are missing out on the best buys for players who will not raise the level dramatically.

There is a habit of overlooking younger, "unproven" talent: Everyone wants Griezmann now, no one wanted him enough to pay €30 million two years ago.

"I know English clubs that work very hard when it comes to scouting but all the information that they gather, they then don't use it when it finally comes to making signings," admits the Sevilla sporting director, Monchi.

"Why? Because they have money. The attitude is: I'm not going to discover (Seydou) Keita at Lens. I'm going to let Sevilla do that and then buy Keita from Sevilla. The money allows English clubs to (avoid) the risk."

On the other hand, Spanish clubs see in England a cash-rich market they need to sell to, one where they can get big fees for their players.

The Premier League is a threat to La Liga but it has also proven vital to its financial health: £17million for Perez and £15 million for Baston appears to be a lot of money.

But it may be time to recalibrate what counts as "too much" as the income from the new £7 billion TV deal reaches Premier League clubs.

They pay that because they can. This looks like a sellers' market to the Spanish and a buyers' market to the English.

Spanish players may have seemed overpriced this summer, but the context is a window in which Christian Benteke set Crystal Palace back £27 million and Yannick Bolaise cost £20 million.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2016, with the headline 'Premier League's focus on Spaniards is mutually beneficial'. Print Edition | Subscribe