While Spanish La Liga features some of the top talent in the soccer world, the league has become somewhat stale and predictable. It seems like every year the La Liga title is passed between the two giants – Barcelona and Real Madrid (although Atletico Madrid won last year). This is like a more-extreme version of Major League Baseball, where it’s not uncommon to see either the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox win the World Series. But this year, all eyes will be on a true underdog in the SD Eibar “Gunners.”
If you’re not familiar with the typical European soccer league format, teams can move up or down in divisions based on their performance from previous years. Calling on baseball again, this would be like the Triple A Toldeo Mud Hens winning a spot in the MLB. Only, SD Eibar is on an even smaller scale, having been in the confines of the second division from 1986 until last year. But after playing out of their minds, this team earned the right to move up to La Liga play.
Hailing from the small town of Eibar (pop. 27,507), the Gunners will now have an opportunity to take on the likes of Real Madrid in giant, sold-out stadiums. This is quite a step up when you consider that the Gunners’ own stadium holds just 5,200 fans. And this stadium is where SD Eibar grabbed their first-ever La Liga victory – a 1-0 triumph over Real Sociedad.
Make no mistake about it, this team has the talent to compete. They knocked off second-division rival Alavés last year with a number of good athletes who can run the field and pull off some spectacular plays. But even though they are good enough, SD Eibar faced another huge challenge to enter La Liga – raise €1.7 million ($2.2 million) by early August.
This rule was imposed by the Spanish Football Association, which requires any La Liga team to at least have capital equal to 25% of the average expenses of second-division teams. To Barcelona or Real Madrid, which both spent over $190 million on players alone last season, this amount is a joke. But to SD Eibar, this required a serious fund-raising effort.
Like the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, they sold shares in the team that were capped at $100,000. Manchester City players David Silva and Xabi Alonso, who are former Eibar members, helped raise money too. With these efforts, the team easily hit its funding mark by early July.
Now officially a member of La Liga and boasting a 1-0 record, SD Eibar will certainly draw fanfare from all over the world. After all, they are the unlikeliest of teams to be playing against talent-rich squads like Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. And they still have 37 matches left to keep proving that they belong with the big boys.