Football: Spain is where the big money now reigns

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The Independent Online
Barcelona's pounds 12m bid for Steve McManaman's emphasises that, despite the departure of Ronaldo, it is La Liga and not the Premiership which has displaced Serie A as the world's wealthiest league.

In July alone Spanish clubs spent pounds 150m (English clubs spent pounds 120m in the whole close-season) with "lesser names" such as Athletic Bilbao, Deportivo La Coruna and Real Betis involved almost as heavily as Barcelona and the two Madrid clubs.

As in England, television is the progenitor of the spending frenzy. Barcelona received pounds 23m from television last year, with 54 of their matches being among the staggering 724 games transmitted live (Sky showed 230, including 40 Spanish games).

The prospect of playing in Barcelona's glittering side (net worth listed at pounds 400m), with Stoichkov, Giovanni, Dugarry, Guardiola, Reiziger, Figo et al is sure to tempt McManaman, however happy he is on Merseyside. So, too, the chance of working with Louis van Gaal.

McManaman is smart enough to realise that his game needs developing. Since Euro 96 it appears to have stagnated. He is yet to successfully deal with man-marking, and his goalscoring needs work. He remains a very good player but his potential is not being fully realised. The danger is that he may become a fringe player in the Barcelona side, so strong is their squad. This would not be good for him or England.

For all the reservations about his game he remains, however, a fine player, one of the best at breaking down defences in the English game. It thus seems odd that Liverpool are apparently prepared to sell him. It ought not be for financial reasons. They have spent pounds 12m on transfers in the summer but received pounds 7m for Stan Collymore. They have spent heavily on the ground, with the rebuilding of the Kemlyn Road end completing a thorough overhaul, but received some assistance from the Football Trust and, of course, are about to receive another pounds 7m from Sky.

This should mean they can replace McManaman, but with whom? Darren Eadie and Trevor Sinclair are the obvious candidates in England, Alessandro Del Piero an overseas possibility.