Chapter 10“I Want 40% for the Boy”

As he rode his horse around his enormous country estate in the bright sunshine of the plains of central Spain, Miguel Ángel Gil mulled over the next step for Atlético Madrid. He had borrowed from investment funds and wealthy individuals to keep creditors at bay, and assembled a squad to win the club's first La Liga title in 17 years, but he was tired of the financial balancing act he had to perform. He wanted a longer-term plan. He looked enviously at Real Madrid and Barcelona, who could command huge television deals and sponsorships. They had annual revenue topping €500 million, more than three times what Atlético earned.

Barcelona, wowing football fans with attacking displays led by Lionel Messi and supported by Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta, had recently snagged a €30 million per year deal with Qatar to brand its burgundy and blue shirts with the Gulf state's name. Real Madrid was in talks with Abu Dhabi about the naming rights of its Santiago Bernabéu Stadium that would help finance a €400 million refurbishment, including a money-spinning hotel and shopping centre.

Even as the newly minted Spanish league champion, Atlético Madrid could not attract the backing of such rich allies because it did not have the big names that its bigger rivals had: players like Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Atlético players were a bunch of outsiders, even if as a group they were formidable. Defender Filipe Luís described the team under the black-suited ...

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