Real Madrid’s exit from the Champions League was met with understandably dramatic reactions in not just Madrid, but all over Spain. It was perhaps less the defeat itself, and more the manner of it, which led to hyperbolic exaggerations but the match made one thing clear – La Liga’s star is falling.
In the past three seasons, only two of the twelve semi-finalists in the UEFA Champions League have been from Spain – Barcelona in 2018/19 and Real Madrid this season. The Spanish league potentially faces a potential existential threat should the best player in the country, and the world, Lionel Messi decide to leave this summer.
Last summer’s biggest story was the Argentine’s burofax delivered to then Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu stating his desire to leave the club. Barcelona had a dismal 2019/20 season – losing the La Liga to Real Madrid, crashing out of the Copa Del Rey to Athletic Bilbao, and being humiliated in the Champions League 8-2 by Bayern Munich.
The club’s finances were, and still are, dangerously mismanaged. Funds were not, and still aren’t, available to make big money signings for a quick rebuild. Messi frankly did not, and still does not, have time to sit around and wait for Ansu Fati and Co. to come of age.
The forced departure of Luis Suarez, a best friend on and off the field for Messi, did not help. Suarez has gone on to lead Atetico Madrid to the top of the league which perhaps reinforces Messi’s belief that Barcelona are using the wrong strategy. A legal technicality prevented him from leaving last summer but his contract is up this year. He can leave on a free transfer, if he can find a club to fund his wages.
La Pulga still remains the world’s best and has produced unreal numbers once more this season – especially since the turn of the calendar year. PSG and Manchester City are frontrunners for his signature but the destination does not matter. It is his decision to stay or leave which could decide Spanish football’s medium-term future.
La Liga’s stock already crashed three years ago when Cristiano Ronaldo decided to leave Real Madrid for Juventus. The move has not really worked out for any party but it has certainly brought down the quality of the league. El Clasico is no more the massive attraction it once was.
The league’s President Javier Tebas made bold claims saying La Liga’s brand was immune to the Portuguese’s departure but deep down he knows he is just trying to put on a brave face. Even the outspoken chief admitted that Messi’s departure would hurt the league more, before going on to claim that they are ready financially for his exit.
Spanish football is characterised by technically gifted, physically stunted players with flair but modern football’s evolution is making such players obsolete. Pressing, counter or otherwise, has become the most important asset of a team. Successful number 10s are now in the mould of Phil Foden and Mason Mount rather than Mesut Ozil.
La Liga has not followed this evolution. Neither of the big three teams press high up the pitch and the challengers in Villarreal, Sevilla and Real Betis too rely on individual player quality in the attacking third. While this works well for the league and produces some outstanding entertaining matches, the system fails more often than not against Europe’s best.
Lionel Messi’s expected exit will certainly make the league worse off. This year’s close title race has generated some global interest but without Messi the competition would not be as enthralling. La Liga needs to reinvent itself and to do so, it needs new administrators.
Florentino Perez has made a fool of himself over the past few weeks. New Barcelona President Joan Laporta has also been a huge conspirator in the Super League debacle. Both the league’s giants have financial problems. The league itself feels stale, despite the super HD cameras used for broadcasts.
Spanish football needs a complete renovation, and fast. If players, managers and administrators do not make changes, La Liga may never recover its glory days, and Messi’s departure may just be the tipping point.