Barcelona v Eibar: La Liga new boys face David v Goliath match
Last updated on .From the section European Football
As Barcelona splashed £75m on Luis Suarez this summer, their opponents on Saturday - Eibar - also broke their transfer record, shelling out 75,000 euros on winger Dani Nieto.
For the pile of money Barca sent to Liverpool to acquire Suarez, Eibar president Alex Aranzabal can run the tiny Basque club's entire operation for nearly five years.
Yet, despite the enormous financial disparity, the La Liga debutants will face the Catalan giants as one of their peers this weekend.
"A couple of years ago the idea of playing in the top flight was a dream," said Aranzabal. "This is a special moment for us."
|The size of Eibar's achievement|
|Eibar's average home gate of 2,901 was smaller than 84 Football League clubs last season||Accrington Stanley had the smallest average attendance in the Football League last year at 1,606|
|Coventry - exiled in Northampton - were the only League One club to have a smaller average attendance (2,348)||Barcelona averaged 74,040 last season, while Getafe had the smallest crowd in La Liga - an average of 7,372|
When it comes to David versus Goliath stories, modern-day football surely doesn't have anything better to offer than Eibar's trip to the Nou Camp on Saturday.
The hosts, of course, are one of sport's most famous, wealthy and powerful organisations, boasting a glorious history and millions of fans all over the world.
Eibar, by contrast, must be one of the smallest clubs ever to have competed in any major football nation's top division.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider that Eibar's annual budget is 18m euros (£14.3m) for the whole club - the first-team budget is 11.8m euros (£9.4m).
And while Barca spent in the region of 160m euros (£127m) to sign seven players this summer, 11 of Eibar's 12 reinforcements were either free transfers or loans, with the only player to attract a fee - winger Nieto from, tellingly, Barca's B team - costing those mere 75,000 euros (£59,600).
|2013-14 average attendance||71,977||2,901|
|Official fan clubs (Penyas)||1,267||3|
|Twitter followers (Spanish language accounts)||7.2m||32,600|
|Seasons in top flight||84||1|
|Current full internationals||24||2|
|Record transfer||Luis Suarez, 94m euros (£75m)||Dani Nieto, 75,000 euros (£60,000)|
|Annual budget 2014-15||539m euros (£428m)||18m euros (£14.3m)|
|Debt||287m euros (£228m)||Nil|
Eibar's atmospheric Ipurua ground is a throwback to another era, holding only 5,200 people. Even at that capacity it is rarely full, with the small Basque town's population of less than 30,000 so taken aback by their team's sudden success they have forgotten to start watching them.
Indeed, Eibar's elevation is even more impressive because it was so unexpected. Just two seasons ago they were in the third tier with no serious aspirations to go further, but the turning point came when former player Gaizka Garitano took over as manager and led them to promotion at the first attempt.
Then, although they were operating with the lowest budget in the Segunda Division, Eibar repeated the feat last season, holding off the challenge of Deportivo La Coruna to achieve their second consecutive promotion as champions.
However, Eibar were almost faced with relegation instead of promotion - thanks to a well-intentioned but inflexible administrative measure aimed at preventing clubs sinking into financial difficulties, which requires all Segunda Division teams to possess a certain amount of capital.
Although Eibar had no debts, neither did they have sufficient spare cash. Unlike the English Premier League, where promoted sides receive an instant cash windfall, Spanish clubs have to wait until later in the season to receive television revenue.
And the very unequal nature of its distribution in Spain - Barca and Real receive nearly half the total, while the scraps are shared out among everyone else - means clubs like Eibar receive little more than 10m euros (£7.9m) in any case.
So their summer was spent desperately attempting to raise the 1.7m euros (£1.35m) required before the early August deadline - if they had failed, they would have been relegated back to the third tier rather than promoted to the first.
"It was nonsense because our economic situation was solid," said Aranzabal.
"We are the only club in Spanish professional football that has no debt. We tried to fight in court but in the end had to fight to get more money."
Fortunately, social media worked its magic and a well-received publicity campaign, supported by Spain internationals - and former Eibar loanees - David Silva and Xabi Alonso, resulted in thousands of fans from all over the world contributing to the cause.
The target was reached with weeks to spare, allowing the club to celebrate bureaucratic confirmation of their promotion nearly two months after it had been achieved on the pitch.
One familiar figure who is particularly delighted by Eibar's rise is Silva, who spent the 2004-05 campaign on loan at the Ipurua as he climbed through the youth ranks at Valencia.
"I remember my season there with great affection," the Manchester City midfielder told BBC Sport. "It was a very important year in my career because I learned a lot and grew through all the stages of my development."
Silva backs up the impression of Eibar as a small, unassuming club run by, and appealing to, local people. "The club had a very family feel and people were very humble and welcoming," he confirmed.
"I am still in touch with some of the players and staff from my time there and I always follow them. The club, the town and the fans deserve to enjoy this opportunity and to make the most of it."
Eibar head into Saturday's trip to the Nou Camp as the highest-placed Basque club, looking down from ninth in the table upon Real Sociedad (15th) and Athletic Bilbao (18th) having already played both, beating La Real 1-0 and drawing 0-0 at Athletic.
For a club used to gratefully accepting rejects or young prospects from their two far bigger neighbours in loan deals or free transfers, that is quite some achievement.
|'Football gives us hope'|
|Recession and unemployment has hit the former industrial town of Eibar hard in recent years, but Roberto Bergara, who has owned a bar next to the stadium for the past 10 years, says the football club's success has provided optimism."The industrial crisis hurt us a lot but the club has given us hope," he said. "In this crisis it is a reason to be happy because it hurts talking about the crisis and how few people are left. And in the end it affects you. So to suddenly have a surprise like this, to play in the Primera Division, to have the best players in the world in our stadium, it is a joy."|
As you would expect from a team put together with such limited resources, Eibar's greatest strengths on the field are teamwork, organisation and commitment to the cause.
The most striking feature of last season's campaign was their defence, which conceded just 28 goals in 42 league outings, and they have already made a small piece of La Liga history this season by registering their first eight goals through eight different scorers, showing they are truly a team rather than relying on one or two outstanding individuals.
Garitano and his players are also dogged, evidenced in their most recent outing when Italian striker Federico Piovaccari scored a 93rd-minute equaliser to earn a 3-3 home draw with Levante. Eibar's players might well be outclassed at the Nou Camp this weekend, but they will compete, chase and challenge for every ball from the opening whistle until the last.
Happily, unlike many clubs who rise rapidly before crashing and burning, Eibar's long-term future is secure even if they are unable to maintain their early-season form.
They have resisted the temptation to chase success by spending more than they earn - partly because they couldn't get their hands on more money even if they had wanted to - and offer a rare example of a top-flight club operating without debt.
"We would never consider putting the club in debt. We do our business with our own resources," insisted Aranzabal.
Eibar have, however, been forced to significantly increase their infrastructure this season, with Gergori Prieto from the club's administration team telling BBC Sport: "We restructured the club's personnel during the summer. Last season, I was the only person working in administration - now there are 10 of us, with new departments like marketing."
Prieto added that a 'fantasy land' atmosphere has prevailed since promotion, saying: "The feeling in the streets and within the club is the same; it's almost like a dream.
"This season is a gift which we just have to enjoy, and with some luck perhaps there will be more."
And Saturday's trip to the Nou Camp is particularly significant.
"Barca is the only top team we have never played against before," Prieto said.
"We have met the others like Real Madrid and Atletico in the cup, but never Barca. So it will be a very special day."