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La Liga’s pulling power not diminished by Neymar miss, says league’s India MD

Sports Lounge Editor



Neymar's (forefront) protracted negotiations for a return to Barcelona created a lot of buzz in the transfer season. Photos: Twitter

New Delhi: Brand La Liga is too big an entity to be affected by Barcelona’s inability to sign Neymar, believes the league’s managing director for India Jose Antonio Cachaza.

Neymar’s transfer saga involving his former club Barca and fierce foes Real Madrid was the June-July transfer window’s talking point. Protracted negotiations happened over phases between the Brazilian star’s present employers Paris Saint Germain (PSG), Barca and Real.

Re-signing Neymar would have been viewed as a massive statement of intent by not only Barca but also by La Liga – which thrives on the Real-Barca rivalry – particularly after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Madrid to Italy’s Juventus in 2018.

Ronaldo and Neymar’s move away from Spain was seen as a body blow to La Liga’s viewership pull in the Asian market. The PSG’s star return would have increased chances of TV saleability in the Indian subcontinent, where the league can be viewed live only on Facebook this season.

But Cachaza said La Liga can’t possibly boast of all the big names at the same time and is content with whatever they have.

Neymar barca

MSN – Luis Suarez (from left), Neymar and Lionel Messi forged a successful goalscoring partnership for Barcelona.

“I don’t think that affects the interests of La Liga at all. Of course we want to have all the big stars with us. It would be great if Barcelona can sign Neymar. But we understand that we cannot have all the top players with us,” Cachaza told Sports Lounge in an exclusive chat.

The potential deal also managed to engage Lionel Messi, Barca’s talisman at first speaking about the deal’s necessity and then questioned his club efforts once negotiations fell through as time ran out. Cachaza said Messi remains the league’s face and it remains well placed to attract marquee names in the future.

“We have some top names with us, including the number 1 (Lionel Messi). So we have a lot to offer to fans in terms of football stars. We are sure it will remain that way in the future.”

Landing star names help European football leagues generate interest and bag lucrative TV deals in foreign shores. CR7’s move to Turin doubled Serie A viewership in India, while halving El Clasico’s impressions from 4 million to 2 million, as per BARC India television audience statistics. Cachaza admitted recreating the Messi vs Ronaldo rivalry would be tough for the league.

“Ronaldo leaving was a big loss. Our audience viewership was also affected. But we are happy that Ronaldo gave his best years to La Liga with Real Madrid. He chose to go to Italy to end his playing years there. That is good for him.

“It would be hard to replicate the rivalry of Ronaldo and Messi with any other player. Though La Liga would have benefitted had the rivalry remained in Spain. So it’s time to let go of it.”

Ronaldo Messi

Lionel Messi’s (left) on-field rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo has been La Liga’s biggest selling card in recent years.

Last year, La Liga’s official broadcaster showed select matches live. Reportedly, they weren’t keen on extending the association this season owing to commercial unviability.

Failing to find a broadcaster though doesn’t perturb Cachaza. Playing down prospect of the league’s reduction in viewership, he said they are focused on getting a headstart on live streaming of matches in India, where internet penetration is increasing steadily.

“We understand that it is a new approach to watch football, a sort of experiment. We know audience watch sports more through TV. But if some people start to watch it on a digital platform, hopefully more will follow. We are working with Facebook live towards that.

“Now viewing is more accessible, all they need is a mobile phone. It may take some time for results to show but we have taken a step in the right direction,” he added.

Real vs Barca has been La Liga’s trumpcard in its efforts to expand its push overseas. Cachaza insisted that it’s not only about the ‘Big Two’ but other clubs also remain part of the focal point.

“We are proud to have probably the two best clubs in the world. We are proud to have Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla. Apart from Real and Barca we have a lot to offer.”

jose Cachaza

Facebook India’s director and head of partnerships Manish Chopra (left) and La Liga India’s MD Jose-Antonio Cachaza at an event in New Delhi.

Competition from the English Premier League (EPL) in India is intense. La Liga is keen for its brand to grow at a healthy rate, aware that there is a considerable gap between the two leagues in Indian TV audience.

“EPL started promoting their competition in Asia 20-25 years ago. We have only begun promoting La Liga 5-6 years ago. So we still have a long way to go. We are happy to be among the top two most viewed leagues in India.”

Facilitating arrangement of pre-season friendlies for Spanish clubs in India could be a way of gaining an extra yard over the EPL, but Cachaza said several factors need to match for that to happen. Girona FC were involved in a pre-season tournament, also involving Kerala Blasters and A-League side Melbourne City FC, in July 2018 at Kochi.

“We would be happy to facilitate La Liga clubs coming for pre-season matches in India. But that isn’t easy. The pre-season window is very short and it collides with the monsoon in India. Apart from our interest we also need to find a local promoter. That is how the system works,” Cachaza said.

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