Barcelona, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Barcelona, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Barcelona…
It was 2004 and Valencia, not Madrid’s Galacticos or Barcelona, were crowned the champions of Spain—it was the second time in three seasons that Los Che had finished as the Primera Division’s top dogs.
Deportivo de La Coruna won it in 2000 too, Atletico Madrid in 1996 and Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad won the league twice each between 1981 and 1984.
These are rare occasions though.
Madrid have won La Liga a staggeringly high 32 times and Barca 22 times, leaving Atletico (9), Athletic (8) and Valencia (6) trailing in their wake.
Sevilla and Real Betis joined the seven sides previously mentioned to take the total winners of Spain’s top flight to nine, which is hardly any when you consider that 23 have won the equivalent league in England—from teams like Manchester United and Arsenal through to Burnley, Preston and Ipswich.
However, you have to imagine (hope?) that Real Madrid and Barcelona, despite their superior wealth and support around the world, will eventually, at least once, give up the title again.
So who else could win it?
For the first time in a long time, there is a team which is entering the final stretch of the season, other than Barca or Madrid, with a real chance of winning La Liga.
After their draw with Real on Sunday, Atletico Madrid are three points off the top and don’t have to play one of the top two until they travel to Camp Nou for the final game of the season.
Recent away defeats to Almeria and Osasuna have put a damper on their season and they’ll have to hope for no more slip ups like if they want to be in with a shot of lifting the trophy come May—they may not get a better chance.
Rather than being built on money, Atleti’s success has been born from the leadership of their manager Diego Simeone and, if they’re to make another title push next year, you get the feeling he needs to stay around.
In the immediate future, Los Rojiblancos are the only side capable of breaking the duopoly.
Singaporean businessman Peter Lim tried and failed in a bid to become the owner of Valencia in January (h/t football-espana).
It he’d been successful in acquiring Los Che, Lim would have spent €90 million on purchasing the shares of the club, €120 million on clearing the club’s debt and would have added a further €40 million for the club to spend on players in January.
Bankia said he didn’t meet the 14-point criteria, laid down by financial group KPMG who are working on the sale of Valencia, to take over the club though.
Despite this setback, there is a feeling that the Mestalla club could be on the brink of new ownership.
That could mean Manchester City, Malaga or Racing Santander style—if it is the former, Madrid and Barca will need to watch out.
Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad have enjoyed a relative amount of success in recent seasons.
La Real impressed last year, qualifying for the Champions League, and have shown further glimpses of that form this season—notably in their recent win over Barcelona.
Athletic were brilliant at times under Marcelo Bielsa, but Ernesto Valverde has taken them to another level this season, by adding more consistency, and they look a sure-fire bet for a top-four finish at the moment.
However there are obvious doubts whether either could move to the level which would see them competing for the title.
Both clubs have great values—trusting in youth for example, while Athletic will only play Basque players—but you feel it is those values, plus an inability to sign the top players, which will see them remain on the periphery.
Who will break the Madrid/Barca title run?
Outside those four, at the moment, it would seem very few could split the apex predators, let alone topple them both in the same season.
For this theory to be proved wrong, you would imagine, unfortunately, that a club would have to be bank rolled in order to be elevated to the levels of Real and Barca.
Sevilla and Real Betis, big clubs with large supports, could be targets for money men in the future, while clubs like Villarreal and Deportivo La Coruna—the latter are currently in La Segunda—may also interest people looking to get their money involved in Spanish football.
For now though all eggs are firmly in Atletico’s basket.