A Two Horse Race

Ask someone from the UK what they think of La Liga and the words ‘boring’ or ‘predictable’ will no doubt be used to describe the Spanish top flight. While Real Madrid’s (32) and Barcelona’s (24) combined total of 56 title wins suggests that the league is solely contested by the two clubs, but it’s not that simple.

Atletico Madrid’s recent successes have broken the ‘duopoly’s stranglehold over domestic honours in spectacular fashion with the Copa del Rey triumph in 2013 and the league win 2014. But it is not only Diego Simeone’s side that have made their presence felt over the years in La Liga.

Prior to Atletico becoming current league champions, there was a 10 year period where the league title was shared between Real and Barca. This decade made it all too easy for La Liga sceptics who pointed to this trend in an attempt to dismiss the efforts of Valencia, Sevilla, Atletico and Athletic Bilbao at claiming top spot.

Spanish football has dominated the international scene of the early 21st century but why has it come in for so much criticism at a domestic level? The last 3 winners of the Champions league have been from Spain and like in 2014, both of Europe’s elite footballing trophies were claimed by Spanish sides and in that year 3 out of the 4 finalists were also from Spain. Some of the finest players in the Premier League all made their names in La Liga; De Gea (Man Utd), David Silva (Man City), Juan Mata (Man Utd) and Cazorla (Arsenal) to mention a few.

Saying that there are only two teams in the running for the league title in Spain will not get you too many friends. Valencia fans will point to their League wins in the 01/02 and 03/04 seasons, fans of Bilbao highlight how they have won only one less league trophy than Man City and Chelsea combined. Not so famous Deportivo la Coruña diehards hark back to their title win back in 2000. Not only does La Liga boast 9 different league champions in comparison to the Premier League’s 6, it also flaunts a diversity of champions.

One club in the bottom half of the premier league table can claim that they have won the league, La Liga has 3 former champions currently residing in the lower places of the table.

Although a case can be made for the ‘other’ teams it is hard to play down the sheer enormity of both Real Madrid and Barcelona. Barca’s mantra of ‘mes que un club’more than a club – is no word of a lie as in 2014 the club surpassed 500 million euros in annual revenue, its highest of all time. In true Real Madrid fashion, the European champions later that year published their revenue of 603.9 million euros, which set the record annual revenue for any professional sports team. In Spanish football the gap between Real and Barca isn’t so much in terms of footballing ability but rather financial capabilities.

Whilst Real and Barca boast increases in revenue, the rest of the current top 5 are all struggling with losses. Atletico Madrid, despite their 5 cup wins in just over 3 years, find themselves with 84 million euros worth of debt. Singaporean businessman Peter Lim recently bought 82.3% of shares to help Valencia CF steer clear of liquidation.  Sevilla president del Nido openly claimed ‘everyone was for sale’ in order to balance the books at the Andalucian club back in 2013 – a move which saw Jesus Navas and Negredo sign for Man City.

When La Liga is investigated under an economical magnifying glass it’s easy to understand why Barca and Real have been able to have such continuous success over the years but, as has been proven by Atletico et al the gap remains only in a financial sense.

Deportivo Alaves have beaten Barcelona at the Camp Nou and held Atletico Madrid to a draw so far this season after promotion last summer, proving that even the league’s struggling sides can trouble the big boys. This rhetoric is often used as the Premier League’s selling point but prior to the multi-millionaire take overs at Man City and Chelsea, the English top division was dominated by Liverpool and Manchester United with brief interruptions by Arsenal.

In reality the Premier League’s duopoly was only recently broken, thanks in part to Roman Abramovic and Sheikh al Mansour…and of course Claudio Ranieri.

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