Granada entire wage bill would not pay Messi but they are on top of La Liga
In week five of the season Granada beat Barcelona 2-0 at home. They were flying high in the Champions League places, but people said it couldn’t last.
Now in week 10 they are a point clear of Barcelona in the table and on top of La Liga. The club whose entire wage bill would not pay Lionel Messi’s salary looks down on Barça and the rest of the teams in Spain.
Most still agree that it won’t last, but maybe this is a real phenomenon and not just an early season blip in the balance of power.
Granada’s incredible start to the season represents over-achievement on a grand scale. They have the third smallest salary budget in the division – only Valladolid and Mallorca are working within tighter financial restrictions.
And while Granada are – due to league regulations – only allowed to spend €35.6m (£30.75m) on wages, they are leading the division ahead of Barcelona (free to spend €671m (£579m) on their squad’s salary) and Real Madrid (who are not far behind with a €641m (£553m) wage budget).
Money doesn’t matter at the moment. And history is being made. Granada had only been top once before. In the fifth week of the 1973-74 season they led the league for just a week. Now 46 years later they are looking down on everyone else again.
It’s true they made it to the top of the pile because the Clasico was postponed but even if the Barcelona Real Madrid game gone ahead they would have been above one of the big two, and with over a quarter of the season gone.
The team is a well-constructed tight unit of players. Some were at the club last season as they won promotion in second place, some are young players destined for great things who are furthering their careers, and others, like former Tottenham striker Roberto Soldado, are just embracing the chance to have another exciting season in the top flight – something they sensed might have passed them by.
Comparisons are already being made with Leicester. Were Granada to hang on for another 28 weeks of the season it would be an even greater achievement than Claudio Ranieri’s side.
No one expects it to happen and coach Diego Martinez has urged everyone to just enjoy this – maybe brief – moment of supremacy.
He has quality at his disposal. Granada have young Portuguese keeper Rui Silva keeping more clean sheets this season than any other keeper aside from Jan Oblak.
And in front of him Domingos Duarte has been as impressive as any central defender in La Liga. At 24 the former Sporting defender looks destined to be a regular in the senior Portugal team.
In midfield Manchester City loanee Yangel Herrera has impressed. On Sunday the 21-year-old Venezuelan international formed an imposing midfield three with Nigeria international Ramon Azeez and French international Maxime Gonalons.
In attack it is often 34-year-old Soldado, flanked by Venezuela’s shoot-on-sight winger Darwin Machis and run-forever Antonio Puertas, who got 10 goals in the promotion season last year.
On Saturday Soldado was rested but still played an important role as a late substitute as they ran down the clock to beat Betis and provoke scenes not unlike the promotion celebrations from last year.
Their coach Martinez, arms aloft, saluted the 19,000 in their Los Carmenes stadium. A humble home with the stunning backdrop of the Sierra Nevada, the tallest peak on the Spanish peninsular.
Granada’s Chinese owner Jiang Lizhang is reaping the rewards for leaving the running of the club in the hands of director general Antonio Fernandez who appointed the talented Martinez.
The 38-year-old coach was recruited to Sevilla by talent-spotter supreme Monchi and he worked with Unai Emery among others before going out on his own as a number one.
He has already warned against euphoria. ‘Girona beat Real Madrid last year and went down,’ he said recently. ‘This is a long season’. But Granada already have as many points in week 10 as they had at the end of the 2016-17 season when they were relegated.
That was a disastrous campaign that saw the club turn, with seven games to go, and without success, to Tony Adams to keep them up. They lost all seven of those matches. They failed to bounce immediately back but now they look like they have returned to stay.
Back in that relegation season Granada had 18 different nationalities represented in their squad and they became the first side in La Liga history to pick 11 different ones in the same team.
It was a mishmash of players merely passing through with no real link to the club.
Adams could be heard bellowing at his players in those desperate training sessions: ‘We can’t do this alone. You have to speak to each other. You pick the language, but you have to speak.’