Earlier this year, Forza Futbol invited me to write an article on the state of stadiums in La Liga. With a few notable exceptions, it did not make happy reading. I reported that the majority of clubs in Europe’s top league played in antiquated arenas, and given the state of the clubs and local government finances, there was little scope for change. There was a glimmer of light however. Three clubs, namely Valencia, Atlético Madrid & Athletic Club had plans, concrete plans, if you’ll excuse the pun, to build state of the art stadiums.
In Bilbao, work is progressing with the building of the €211m replacement of the iconic San Mamés stadium. By the beginning of September, three-tiered concrete supports were in place on three sides of the stadium and pre-cast concrete surfaces were being added to the lower level. So close is the proximity of the new build to the existing stadium, that only three sides will be initially developed. The fourth will be added once Athletic has moved in and the old San Mamés demolished. Athletic want to be in for the start of the 2013-14 season, but a move mid-way through next season seems more likely. This will allow the club to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the inauguration of its grand old stadium on 21 August 2013.
|Let's Get it On - The three-sided stadium set to debut in 2013-14|
Whilst building-work has made good progress, Athletic has encountered a few obstacles over financing. The project is a joint venture with funding coming from five partners. Athletic Club, BBK (Bilbao Biscay Savings Bank), The Council of Bizkaya and The Basque Regional Government have a €50m stake in the project, whilst Bilbao City Council has committed €11m. With local elections looming, some politicians have called upon Athletic to make a greater contribution to the project, pointing to the recent €40m transfer of Javi Martinez to Bayern Munich as a sign of its relative wealth. Athletic remain resolute, reminding everybody of the community facilities that the stadium will incorporate and the €500,000 they will pay each year in rent. In reality, these financial issues will not halt or delay the building of the stadium, a situation which Valencia CF can only look upon with envy.
The problems with Valencia’s new development on the Avenida Cortes Valencianas have been widely publicised. Work began on 1 August 2007, but Valencia was just about to have their worst domestic season for nearly 20 years and as a result, would not qualify for the Champions League. No Champions League means no lorry-loads of euros and with the world financial crisis looming, the banks started to get anxious. Things were not going well at the new stadium either. On 26 May 2008 four construction workers died when scaffolding collapsed on one of the ten main towers. A further failure to qualify for the Champions League in 2008-09 saw the club’s debt rise to over €500m and when in the summer of 2009, they defaulted on several payments to the construction company, worked stopped on the new stadium.
|You Keep Me Hanging On - Nou Mestalla after 3 years of inactivity|
The club sold its best players and yet, against the odds, made a return to the Champions League. In January 2012, Valencia came to an agreement with their bank to reduce the debt by a further €100m and then in June, agreed revised plans with the local city council for the development of the existing Mestalla site. The funds raised by the sale of the old site are central to the completion of the Nou Mestalla. Work was due to restart on the new stadium in September, but fifteen days into the month and the construction teams are conspicuous by their absence. Even with a fair wind behind it, any move into the Nou Mestalla still appears to be a couple of years off, but it seems too far advanced not to be completed at some stage in the next few years.
|A Change is Gonna Come - Eventually|
And so to the mad, mad world of Atlético Madrid and their proposed development of the Estadio La Peineta. Anybody who has studied the history of Atléti will know that their past is littered with stadium moves and protracted refurbishments. More widely publicised is the dire financial situation that presently afflicts the club. Their 2011 accounts put the size of the debt at €510m, of which €215m is owed to the tax authorities. A further €55m is owed to other clubs in transfer fees and €52m to staff. Thanks to relatively low income, not helped by a feeble slice of the TV revenue money, Atléti’s debt coverage is a worrying 20%. So why, and more importantly how can they build a new stadium?
|It's the Same Old Song - Atléti are singing a familiar tune|
Atleti’s plans focus on the sale of the Vicente Calderon to Madrid City Council. It was envisaged that the council would redevelop the site of the stadium and the adjoining Mahon Beer factory into a commercial and residential metropolis. In return, Atléti would receive La Peineta and any additional money from the sale of the old stadium would be used to clear the club’s debts. In the spring of 2011, the club announced they had received planning permission for the redevelopment of La Peineta and work would soon commence. Soon in Atléti parlance meant December, when the club organised a big media gathering to watch, in essence, the breaking up of a few pieces of old terracing.
|I'm Still Waiting - Move along. Nothing to see here!|
To complicate matters further, a group of Atléti supporters sued the city council to prevent the move from the Vicente Calderon. It appears that it is now illegal to build higher than four storeys in the city centre of Madrid, which means Madrid City Council would not receive anything close to the revenues it was expecting. The case has gone to appeal, but being Spain, don’t expect an answer anytime soon. Predictably, the build at La Peineta has all but ground to a halt. Work has got as far as removing the lower tier of the main stand, taking down the floodlights and some excavation. The official line from the club is that the development is progressing to plan, but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. As we now know, truth and reality is rarely the same thing when dealing with Atlético Madrid.