La Liga has two representatives in the UEFA Champion’s League semi-finals and an all-Spanish final might occur for the second time in the competition’s history. However, this, we argue, does not reflect the superiority of the Liga BBVA as a whole…
‘Two-horse race’ is often the most common description of the La Liga title race, which, even to those of us who defend the league, appears to be undeniable in recent years.
Sure, this season, we’ve seen an improvement in competitiveness from Real Madrid’s cross-town rivals, Atletico, and the race for second has become more interesting than the title race itself (one where Barcelona have a 13 point lead), but in reality, it seems unlikely that any team in the Spanish top-flight will ever be able to properly challenge for top-honours outside of the top 2. The last time a Spanish team finished in the top two who wasn’t Real Madrid or Barcelona was in 2008, when Villarreal took 2nd place. But even then, it took a catastrophic season from Barcelona (and then- club icon, Ronaldinho.
The last time we saw a team outside of the so-called ‘big two’ was back in the 03/04 season, when Rafa Benitez’s Valencia won the league. That seems all but a distant memory these days and since that time, teams have just simply fallen off the pace set by Real Madrid and Barcelona.
In the space of little over a decade, La Liga’s level of competitiveness has dropped dramatically. In the early stages of the 21st century, the top-spots in La Liga were only won after a severely difficult campaign in which you might have been competing from your place with sometimes 4 or 5 teams. I’m talking, of course, about the years when ‘SuperDepor’, Real Sociedad, Celta Vigo, Valencia and the likes were all involved in the title race, providing serious challenges. Now, time has passed and a lot of those teams have even gone through relegation. Above mentioned Villareal are actually playing in the Segunda Division at the moment.
So, what changed in the last decade? The obvious answer is money. Plain and simple. Football has become a money game. While Real Madrid and Barcelona spend hundreds of millions of euros in the transfer windows, many of the lower-table teams can only afford players on free-transfers and the odd loan deal. Even the Qatari-owned Malaga had to make severe cut-backs and offloaded Santi Cazorla to Arsenal in the summer.
They have been banned from European competition next season as a result of financial problems. In the past, Mallorca has encountered the same issues. Also Hercules, Racing Santander, Valencia and countless other teams have encountered financial woes which have drastically limited the progress and potential of teams.
For instance, can you imagine a wealthy Valencia with the likes of David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata all part of their team? That sounds like the kind of attack that could compete at the highest level.
The point here is that there is a massive disparity financial resources between the top 2 and the rest of the league. So, we dig further…
Where does this disparity come from? Real Madrid, for starters, is the highest earning club in Europe with an annual revenue stretching to sums in excess of half a billion euros. Barcelona isn’t far behind either. However the television deals with Liga BBVA heavily favour the top two. Real Madrid and Barcelona share more than half the revenue generated from TV deals to themselves and allow the rest of the teams to fight over the rest.
To give you an indication of the difference, while both Madrid and Barca made €140m in their deals last season, Levante on the other hand got €12m. In addition to this, there are obvious financial obstacles such as the global economic recession and the lack of European football (which includes the lack of funding for participants in such competition) that are perpetuating the status quo in the league. Above this, there is a massive historical disadvantage for the other teams.
So what am I proposing here? Well, it’s far easier said than done, but I think it’s time for the LFP executives and the various presidents of top-flight clubs (including Florentino Perez and Sandro Rossell – because the lack of competition will ultimately hurt them in the end as well) to sit down and discuss a reformatting of the TV deals and perhaps the league as a whole. It would certainly help to mirror the efforts made in the late 80s and early 90s in England.
The English first division’s transformation into the Barclays FA Premier League has seen a radical improvement to English League football and if Spain could pull off a similar operation then surely it could move to even greater heights.