Spain is the home of world-renowned artists, musicians, athletes, some of the finest football teams in history, yet it is also the nation with the most boring top flight among all of Europe’s major leagues.
Despite recent setbacks – if Spain’s defeat at the finals of the Confederations Cup and the exits of Barcelona and Real Madrid at semi-final stage of the Champions League can be considered as such – Spanish football must still be considered the benchmark for excellence, at least at international level. Whereas Brazil’s success at the Confederations Cup was somewhat surprising, it’s neither proof of Spain’s regression nor evidence for the superiority of the Selecao.
It’s a final that Spain lost. No more, no less.
Bottom line: The Spanish National Team did reach the finals of yet another international tournament. Something a host of teams have failed to accomplish in years, if not decades. Even Spain’s U21 set-up is in a very good shape. Spain’s next generation of world-class talent has successfully defended their crown at the U-21 European Championship in Israel after winning the trophy at the previous tournament in Denmark.
The immediate and long-term future of La Furia Roja is secure. Spain is arguably the only nation whose non-regular players are of similar quality as its starting XI. Sure, players such as Xavi or Andres Iniesta are irreplaceable. Then again, they’d be hard to replace in any team. However, whereas, say, the absence of Andrea Pirlo would create serious headaches for Italy’s tactician-in-chief Cesare Pandrelli, the non-availability of Xavi, Iniesta or even Xabi Alonso provides Spain’s Vincent Del Bosque the opportunity to experiment a little (Cesc Fabregas? Javi Martinez?).
Taking all into account one would assume that Spanish football is in an immaculate state. La Furia Roja are the reigning European and World Champions, FC Barcelona were the dominant team of the last five years, and Real Madrid has the biggest turnover of any team, in any sport.
Nevertheless, Spain’s rise to dominance hasn’t translated to an increased interested in Spanish football as a whole. Of the four elite championships (the EPL, the Bundesliga, Serie A and the Primera Division) the Spanish top flight ranks last in terms of TV-Revenue, behind the Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A, and the self-styled best league in the world, the English Premier League.
Not to suggest that Spanish football is boring per se – far from it. Fans of La Liga will attest that the Primera Division offers the spectacular on a regular basis and entertainment value aplenty. The two best players in the world, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, ply their trade in Spain, as do the lion’s share of nominees for the Ballon D’Or. The problem is they all play for the two biggest teams in the championship, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Save for the German Bundesliga and Bayern Munich, the allocation of world-class talent in the Primera Division is extremely lopsided. Sooner rather than later the best the league has to offer will find their way to one of Spain’s big two. Radamel Falcao’s departure from Atletico Madrid to nouveau riche Moncao without interference from Barcelona or Real Madrid was the exception to the rule rather than the norm. But in the case of the Columbian hitman special circumstances always made a transfer to either of these teams highly improbable.
At Barcelona Lionel Messi is the focal point of the team, shifting him to the right-wing (though perhaps a necessary adjustment) is unthinkable. Unless Barcelona’s manager contemplates career suicide La Pulga will remain La Blaugrana’s false no. 9 for the foreseeable future and beyond. The Catalan side could (have) use(d) a viable alternative but Falcao was never an option – not at a €60 million price-tag.
Real Madrid on the other hand were interested but bound by a gentleman’s agreement with their city rivals not to bid for Falcao’s signature.
Special circumstances indeed.
Although the Primera Division is a far more competitive championship than the Scottish Premier League, it’s just as predictable even if La Liga sides tend to do well in Europe, unlike their SPL counterparts. Nonetheless, the 2012-13 campaign was probably the most exciting season in years…until November at best. By December eventual champions FC Barcelona had already opened a 15 point gap on second placed Atletico Madrid. La Blaugrana finished the 2012-13 season 15 points clear of Real Madrid and a massive 24 points ahead of Los Rojiblancos.
While the 15 point gap between champions Barcelona and runners-up Real Madrid was the exception, the 24 point advantage the Blaugrana accumulated over Atletico Madrid towards the end of the season is unfortunately within the norm. In the 2011-12 season third placed Valencia finished 39 points behind Real Madrid and 30 points behind Barcelona. The season before that Los Che found themselves 25 points adrift from champions Barcelona.
It’s been 4 years since the third placed team in La Liga has come within striking distance (and even that is stretch at 17 points) of the Spanish duopoly, and half a decade since either Barcelona or Real Madrid has finished outside the top 2.
Sure, FC Bayern Munich dominated the Bundesliga to an even greater extent in the 2012-13 season, but the German side was an unstoppable force in Europe too. If there’s any side that quite literally steamrolled any opponent on its path to the treble, it’s Bayern Munich.
Either way, prior to their historic season Bayern Munich twice finished runners-up to Borussia Dortmund. As a matter of fact, Bayern Munich just won two championships in the last 5 years. It goes some way to dispel the notion that the Bavarian side waltzes over its competitors in the Bundesliga year in and year out.
On a per match basis La Liga offers as much entertainment value as any league. But as a championship it’s simply boring. No club in the Primera Division is equipped (read: has the financial resources) to challenge the status quo, much less for the title. Though it might sound a little harsh, with the exception of Barcelona and Real Madrid the rest of La Liga effectively functions as a talent pool for the rest of Europe. The top-class players from La Liga either sign for one of the big two or leave the championship altogether.
It’s a vicious cycle that will not end anytime soon. Spanish football is probably at its peak, yet the product it is selling is not attractive or appealing.
Most championships are decided in late March or early April. In Spain, the title is won or lost in El Clasico.