It was 10.30pm on transfer deadline day and Gaizka Mendieta was being asked on Spanish TV about his €48million move from Valencia to Lazio back in 2001.

Before the ex-Spain international could answer, a klaxon alarm went off in the studio. The presenters went straight to La Liga headquarters where corporate director Javier Gomez could confirm that Joao Cancelo was one small step away from joining Barcelona from Manchester City on loan.

“The financial control element of the move has been passed,” Gomez said. “Now we just need Sonia in competition to give the definitive OK.”

Host Sandra Diaz then turned to where La Liga competition officer Sonia Moreno was sitting at a nearby desk, and Moreno nodded. Diaz joyfully announced: “Joao Cancelo is now a Barcelona player.”

This was all part of a TV show produced by La Liga themselves and carried live on Friday night by the two channels that show Spanish top-flight football, Movistar and DAZN.

The panel show ran from 9.30pm to 12.30am local time and had hosts discussing the latest transfers with pundits who cover games week to week on both channels. A joke about the broken fax machine that supposedly thwarted Real Madrid’s 2015 signing of goalkeeper David de Gea from Manchester United segued into a proud explanation of how all transfers are now handled digitally by the La Liga IT system.


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— LALIGA Corporativo (@LaLigaCorp) September 1, 2023

Raul Ojeda — once a goalkeeper for Elche and Raith Rovers, now another of La Liga’s competitions officers (an administrative role) — explained how all transfers involving a Spanish club must be completed using this online system, inputting financial and contract information, not unlike booking a flight online. La Liga staff then check to make sure there is enough space within the club’s budget before confirming the transfer.

There was not yet an avalanche of exciting deals to report on. Viewers might have been tempted to switch over to coverage of the La Liga matches taking place on Friday evening, as Cadiz came from 1-0 down to beat Villarreal 3-1, and Celta Vigo beat Almeria 3-2 for their first win under Rafael Benitez.

Instead, there were sections discussing the moves of the Spanish summer so far, interspersed with regular shots of La Liga staff working away at desks in their open-plan office in suburban Madrid.

That was indicative of a summer market in Spain where the drama has often been more around whether clubs would be able to register a player with La Liga, rather than the big names that Spanish clubs are able to attract.

Bellingham, at his Madrid presentation in June (Pedro Castillo/Real Madrid via Getty Images)

Premier League clubs spent a combined record £2.36billion ($2.97bn) this summer. An El Pais article put the total global spend at a record €7.6bn, with the entrance of Saudi Arabia shaking things up (the window there closes on Thursday). Germany, Italy and France also spent record combined totals.

But Spain was by far the quietest of the big European leagues. The 20 La Liga clubs spent just under €430m in total, down from €565m 12 months ago, and a little over a quarter of the record €1.54bn of 2019.

Bellingham’s €103m move to Madrid made up almost a quarter of that total on its own. Of the other top 10 deals involving Spanish clubs this summer, nine were players leaving La Liga.



Bellingham in but no Mbappe and worries in attack: Real Madrid’s transfer window analysed

The producers of Friday night’s show would have been happy to get some Madrid content when little-used right-back Alvaro Odriozola’s return to his former club Real Sociedad was confirmed. There was some drama added by the revelation that Joao Felix had been removed from Atletico Madrid’s official 2023-24 squad, but had not yet been officially added to Barcelona’s.

La Liga’s head of corporate communications Carlos Ruiz Ocana was on screen explaining how rules had been tweaked last November to limit the use of “levers” such as mortgaging club assets like future TV revenues, when another alarm went off in the studio. The hosts went straight back to level seven of La Liga HQ, where it could now be confirmed that Felix had joined Barca on loan for the season. If it was not pre-planned, the timing worked out well.

It was now around 10pm, and all the expected big deals had been done. Antoine Griezmann’s agent Hector Fernandez, one of the studio pundits for the night, joked that he had been expecting things to have been finalised closer to midnight. “We just need Joan Laporta and Jorge Mendes to kiss,” said Movistar presenter Danae Boronat, a nod to how close the relationship between the Barca president and Portuguese super agent of both Felix and Cancelo has become.

Cancelo made his Barca debut on Sunday (Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Among the last moves to be finalised was Getafe loaning Mason Greenwood from Manchester United. Viewers heard that it was a surprising last-minute deal, but coverage did not go into details over why Greenwood was leaving Old Trafford.

There had been more Barca-related drama during the evening as Girona signed defender Eric Garcia on loan and especially as Real Betis struggled to find the space to sign young winger Abde Ezzalzouli. Betis chief executive Ramon Alarcon was interviewed live just after midnight, relieved to have got everything over the line before the window closed.

“We still had five minutes, I remember with Joaquin (in 2015) it went down to the last 30 seconds,” Alorcon joked. “We knew we needed to get some players out before we could sign anyone. We did not receive attractive offers, but the kid was crazy to come here. So at around 4pm, our president and his executives decided to use the option of (a bank) guarantee. Then there was a rush to speak to the player, to Barcelona. There are always delays. It was a very tense day.”

Barcelona needed bank guarantees too. Laporta and other directors had to step in and provide them to help get the registrations of Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo over the line on deadline day.

Barca’s total outlay was just €3.4m, spent on 31-year-old midfielder Oriol Romeu from Girona. The Catalan club actually made just over €100m profit on transfer fees — although that does not take into account the incoming players onto their salary scale in loans and free transfers.



How Barcelona signed Joao Cancelo: Delays, financial chaos and Man City tension

Elsewhere in La Liga, Villarreal made a €97m profit, rebalancing their squad after some years of aiming to compete at Champions League level under Unai Emery. Atletico Madrid made almost €43m while also getting Joao Felix off the wage bill (and with Yannick Carrasco on the verge of completing a potential move to Saudi Arabia at the time of writing).

A total of 301 players were signed for a total outlay of €439m, while 296 players left for an income of €556m. La Liga’s 20 clubs between them made a profit of €116m.

Everybody accepts that La Liga’s financial stability rules are a major factor in its clubs not spending as much as those in other European leagues, never mind the Premier League or Saudi Arabia.

Javier Tebas

Javier Tebas, La Liga president (Oscar J. Barroso/AFP7 via Getty Images)

A sizeable number of executives, directors and coaches, and not just at Barcelona, want the rules to be relaxed so that their teams can invest more money in improving their squads. Some say that foreign investors do not come to Spain as the rules make it impossible to spend millions of their own money for a Newcastle-style leap forward in the team’s competitive level. It also leads to frustration that Premier League clubs such as Aston Villa or West Ham can cherry-pick players from pretty much any club outside Spain’s top three.

Tebas has defended the policy by saying it helps guide Spanish teams to live within their means, after years when clubs regularly went bust, leaving unpaid millions to players, other clubs, local suppliers and the Spanish tax authorities.

“The thing I am proudest of is making Spanish football sustainable, clubs only pay in salaries what they can raise in revenue,” Tebas told The Athletic in an interview last June.

“We are open to investment, but not like in England, where owners come in to cover the club’s losses and increase the players’ salaries.”

The rules can be difficult for some to deal with however, including Sevilla’s new sporting director Victor Orta, who returned to Spain this summer after six years at Leeds in the more freewheeling environment of English football.



‘Clubs knew it needed to change’: Tebas talks foreign investment and La Liga’s strict financial rules

“Seventy per cent of Spanish clubs are having problems,” Orta said in mid-August. “La Liga is looking for a sustainable club model, and you have to value that. But we could debate whether the rules need to be so strict.”

That debate did not really take place during the TV programme La Liga produced themselves on deadline night. Instead, a lot of the drama was generated by whether clubs like Barca or Betis would be able to register the players that they wanted to sign.

Just before midnight on Friday, the cameras returned to La Liga HQ for a countdown of the last 10 seconds of the window. Amid a soundtrack of tense music, about a dozen La Liga staff breathed sighs of relief and then some shared high-fives. They had been the stars of deadline night in Spain.

(Top photo: Alex Caparros/Getty Images)