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Spanish La Liga: The Woes Of Levante

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Victoriano Rivas Alvaro, known as Nano, was asked recently about the potential of the soccer team for which he plays. The team is Levante, the second-most popular team in the city of Valencia, and the poorest team in Spain. Levante had won seven of their first nine games. They had beaten — among others — Real Madrid, which, like Barcelona, was not in first place in La Liga. Levante was.

Nano was asked if his team would stay there.

"No," he replied.

Would Levante finish high enough in La Liga to earn an opportunity to qualify for European competition?

"No," said Nano.

"Isn't there any room to dream?" he was asked.

"No," Nano said…and who could blame him? Levante's roster — the oldest in the La Liga — is full of players discarded by wealthier teams. Nano himself is a bit over 31 years old. Over the past decade, five teams have considered him expendable. He has never been in first place before. In their 102-year history, neither have Levante.

As recently as four years ago, Levante competed in Spain's second division. The players' checks bounced. They threatened to strike.

The sad part of this soccer story is that last weekend, Levante lost, 3-2. Regarding first place, their margin of error was thin. Madrid and Barcelona both won, and each slipped by Levante.

But unlike Madrid and Barcelona, Levante do not aspire to finish first. As Nano said, they don't even dream of it. They look for bargains. They count Euros. Their most lavishly compensated players make in a year what the stars in Madrid and Barcelona make in a week. In that way, the composition of the top soccer league reflects the landscape of Spain, where the rich are very rich and the unemployment rate is 21 percent. At the top of La Liga are two spectacularly wealthy clubs. Below them sit a host of debt-strapped teams desperate to avoid relegation to a lesser division. Levante has been down and back, of course, which helps to explain why Nano has no dreams beyond survival.

"The team is not experiencing success," Head Coach Juan Ignacio Martinez said this week. "Success will come with staying up. But it is true that we have taken a brilliant step toward that objective."

Certainly…and just as certainly, Levante, surprised and surprising, must be winning fans who stand beside the team among the 99 percent in Spain and far beyond.

This program aired on November 2, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield has been the host of Only A Game since the program began in 1993.

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