In the three years since a dodgy fax machine cost Real Madrid the marquee deadline day signing of David de Gea and exposed La Liga’s Flinstones-esque organisation, Spanish football has been living in an episode of Black Mirror. Except this one is rather uplifting.
No one has forgotten the image of Keylor Navas waiting at the Barajas airport for De Gea's documents to arrive at the Santiago Bernabeu offices to embark on a new adventure in England after Madrid and Manchcester United reached an agreement on August 31, 2015. The papers did not arrive in time, however, and amid all the anger and disappointment, the search for a scapegoat led all to point fingers at La Liga’s fax machine.
Desperate to avoid a repeat of the affair, La Liga became possibly the last organisation in the western world to rid themselves of the obsolete technology and embrace the more modern craze: apps.
And in “La Liga Manager”, they have developed an app that has become the all-seeing, all-knowing eye of Spain’s top two leagues – their very own HAL 9000.
The revolutionary tool, introduced three years ago, has streamlined transfers by making the entire process digital.
The simple process is a bit like a computer game. Each team has a template which shows all of their players. When a deal for a player has been agreed, the selling club withdraws him from their squad and the buying club adds him to theirs, including the details such as the fee, salary, bonuses and a signed copy of the contracts.
Every movement the clubs make is double checked by La Liga. First by the financial department, which makes sure the deal fulfils the conditions of the Financial Fair Play that La Liga clubs agreed to. Then, another department checks the registration is in line with the Spanish Federation's rules. The process can take as little as 15 minutes, depending on how complicated each case is. There has even been a case of a player receiving approval right before the kick-off of his new team’s match. Certainly there is no chance of another De Gea debacle happening in Spain.
The Big Brother software even helps clubs stay in budget, as they can see how much they are allowed to spend on a signing and the salary a new player can receive based on their accounts. And there is no room for leeway - if a new signing will take a club over their salary budget, they will have to let someone go before the registration will go through. "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
Much more than that massive increase in efficiency with transfers, La Liga Manager is being used in almost every aspect of running the league.
On matchdays, club delegates use it to submit starting XIs and kit colours and make requests for tributes or a minute’s silence to officials, opponents and TV broadcasters.
Even the three-man referee committee use it to propose and decide referees for each game, with the app taking into account conditions such as not using the same officials at home games of certain teams within a set timeframe or putting people in charge of games in their own regions. With La Liga Manager, regular four-hour meetings have been cut down to 15 minutes.
The step into the future seems to have made everything smoother in Spain.
Never again will dodgy technology make a laughing stock of La Liga. Instead, the rest of the world is trying to catch up.