With a new stadium and back into European domestic football's premier competition, there are plenty of reasons for smiles from Athletico Bilbao supporters...
...what happened to the fourth Champions League place the last time an English team won the thing. Plus, who would want to pay £60 to watch the current England team?
As Barcelona scored their sixth goal before half-time against Levante on Sunday evening, Twitter erupted into criticism of the evident lack of competition in La Liga. When one betting firm is offering odds of 100/1 on the third favourites for the league winning the title it becomes acutely clear that you have a bonafide two-horse race. It is now over five years since any other club broke such a duopoly.
Whilst the on-field dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid is concerning enough for all but fans of those two clubs, off the field such problems are exacerbated. The broadcasting deal in Spain allows for the country's big two to take approximately €140m each, whereas Granada received just €11m. It is no surprise that eight of La Liga's top ten clubs have sold their best player this summer, from Roberto Soldado to Radamel Falcao with Isco, Asier Illarramendi, Alvaro Negredo, Abdel Barrada and Iago Aspas in between. As two get richer the rest get poorer, and the system has been sculpted directly to do so. Two of our teams reached the Champions League semi-finals so f*ck the rest, seems to be the salient point.
When the Premier League's bumper new TV deal arrived in all its £5.5billion glory, there must have been concerns of a similar nature. The country's biggest clubs would surely push for a larger slice of the pie - Manchester United would rightly argue that they generated more interest (and therefore revenue) than Fulham, say, and should therefore be rewarded accordingly. Moreover, with the looming danger of a breakaway European Super League, authorities would have been forgiven (grudgingly) if they had tried to appease those in the potential driving seat of such a rebellion.
Whilst there is still an evident cause for criticism of the Premier League (the comparatively low contributions to the Football League merely drive a larger gap between the bottom and the top that only a sugar daddy can breach), they should be commended for holding firm on their allocation of this shiny new pot of gold amongst the clubs. Firstly, all revenue from overseas domestic rights is split evenly between the 20 clubs. Of the domestic pot, 50% is split evenly between all the clubs, 25% relates to how many times the club are televised during the season, whilst the final 25% is distributed according to finishing position in the league.
From last season to this, each club will see their broadcasting revenue increase by between 60 and 65%, with the champions earning just under £100million. With team finishing bottom of the league receiving £63million, the title winners will be getting 1.6 times more than the 20th placed team. The ever-excellent Sporting Intelligence labels this ratio as 'fairness share', and comparing it to other European league demonstrates how resolute the Premier League have been. In the aforementioned La Liga, the champions (assuming it is Barcelona or Real Madrid) will earn 13 times that of the bottom club, and Italy (10x), France (3.5x) and Germany (2x) all have a lower 'fairness share' than the PL. The difference between the haves and have nots is not growing as many may think.
Such relative equality has been demonstrated throughout this summer's transfer window. Whilst Manchester City have spent close to £100million on transfers (largely in a response to their limp title defence last season), their expenditure is linked to owner wealth rather than broadcasting revenue. Other clubs towards the league's upper reaches have been increasingly stagnant thus far. Manchester United have spent £1.5million, Chelsea £60million less than last season, and Liverpool are still offering a net profit this summer in their dealings. Arsenal's lack of spending may seem everlasting, but they had spent £40million at this stage last year. Only Spurs have been forthcoming with impressive investment, and one assumes that such outlay will be offset by a significant bank transfer authorised by an 'F. Perez'.
Instead, the new TV deal's effect is best seen below the top clubs. Teams with realistic hopes of finishing between 8th and 16th in the league have been given something close to carte blanche, a no-lose situation in which to operate. Through no increased effort of their own, these clubs have had around £30million extra revenue placed into their rather open hands. Such an improvement in funds does much to surge ambition, as does the gap created to the Championship below. Last season Cardiff City earned £5million in broadcasting revenue, this season they will get at an increase of at least 1300%. The rewards for remaining in the Premier League are astronomically high.
With nearly two weeks of the transfer window remaining, Norwich City (11th last season) have spent over £25million. Southampton finished 14th and have spent £35million, whilst Sunderland, Swansea and West Ham have spent north of £20million. Looking at the promoted clubs make things even more obvious, with Cardiff spending £28million, and Hull and Palace together another £20million.
More impressively still, because of the added competition in comparison with alternative leagues, these unfashionable (and I use the phrase without intending offence) clubs have attracted some notable names - this is not simply a case of overpaying for substandard talent. Sunderland have signed a midfielder from the Serie A champions, Southampton recruited Roma's top scorer, Norwich all but persuaded a young Dutch international striker to join before their Premier League safety was even confirmed and Cardiff have bought an international midfielder from Sevilla. Push factors from abroad may be as important as the attractiveness of the current Premier League, but these are changed times.
Such investment must be viewed positively. Two years ago I had serious concerns over the average quality of side in the Premier League. Aston Villa and QPR survived relegation without gaining more than a point a game, whilst both Villa and Stoke scored less than a goal a game and remained at the top level. All too regularly a match appeared as dross versus slightly less dross. Now, with the 'pack' having more money and therefore more incentive to invest in a playing squad has added a level of quality, intrigue and competition to the Premier League, but most importantly has increased this average quality of player.
Moreover, in contrast to clubs in Italy, Germany, Spain (and even extended to Netherlands and France), Sunderland are the only Premier League club that has lost its best player from last season. Whilst Spurs and Everton are both currently fighting against doing so in the form of Gareth Bale and Leighton Baines, the fact still stands, and is a glowing recommendation for the health of the league. The Norwich, Southampton and Swansea of 2013/14 are better than those of last season, and the same picture applies throughout the division. The same cannot be said of many of Europe's other major leagues, where only the elite have improved.
Jeff Powell (and others) may have lost their collective sh*t regarding certain players choosing to ignore the lure of the Premier League, but when the average quality of player (and therefore team) below the big four is raised, competition within the league is improved - competition, as we know, that does much to ignite and excite. Having Pablo Osvaldo facing Ricky Van Wolfswinkel in a mid-table clash should be a pleasing and exciting prospect for us all.
Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter