La Liga: Are FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF Slowly Killing the Spanish League?
In the past two seasons, Barcelona and to a lesser extent Real Madrid have utterly dominated La Liga, with both teams completely obliterating the previous point records, racking up close to 100. Moreover, it seems inevitable that next season will be more of the same: Barcelona and Real Madrid competing to see who loses the least point against the bottom 18 (because that's what they are right now), and the rest of the teams competing in an almost separate league.
It all began (not the duopoly, but this extreme situation where no team can come within 20 points of the big two) with FC Barcelona's famed youth academy La Masia producing a truly golden generation of footballers led by the mercurial Lionel Messi, a homegrown core which, complemented with fine outside talent, gave birth to one of the greatest teams of all-time.
In order to keep up with Barcelona, Real Madrid did the only thing they could and built their own super team through the transfer market, assembling the most expensive squad in football history. While this gave birth to two magnificent sides, certainly the two strongest sides in the world right now, it has also made La Liga boring and predictable for everyone except Barcelona and Madrid fans.
Ever since the inception of La Liga, the competition has been dominated by the two giants, who won 51 of the 80 editions. Still, that's 29 leagues won by other clubs; can anyone honestly see that happen any time soon?
The problem is not that either Real or Barcelona win the league every year, it's that they both win pretty much every week, often by cricket scores. In the past two seasons (76 matches) Barcelona only lost three times, one of them in an inconsequential match after they had secured the title. It's true that the Catalans and the Merengues boast two of the strongest squads the sport has ever seen, but that doesn't explain everything.
When facing a stronger side, teams normally try to find a way to stifle the opponent and provoke an upset. But that doesn't seem to happen in La Liga, at least not often. Most sides just roll over to Real Madrid and Barcelona; last season, Barcelona scored five or more goals on five occasions, and Real Madrid on six; both teams scored eight past Almeria.
This clearly shows that some teams just give up and don't even try to put up a fight. Last season, Malaga fielded a reserve side against Real Madrid (lost 7-0) because they had a more important game a few days later, a game where they could actually win.
Is the current situation in La Liga sustainable in the long term?
It wouldn't be a surprise if more and more teams followed Malaga's example. With Barcelona and Real further improving their squads and the rest of La Liga in financial trouble, the gap only tends to increase and the rest of the league will focus on the games they can realistically win. Espanyol president recently said that maybe teams should start playing their B team whenever they face Barca and Madrid.
The scary part is that something like this might indeed happen rather sooner than later, thus further harming the league's credibility. A scenario like this would make lose revenue and eventually lead to its implosion.
La Liga is in crisis and its future as a competition is uncertain. Barcelona and Real Madrid are probably the two biggest clubs in the world, but they need the other clubs as well. If the league goes broke, the two giants will be severely affected as well. Even if this current state of affairs continue, they'll both pay sooner or later, as players can't really improve if they're not challenged. Right now, it's the league as a whole who's paying the price: La Liga is losing viewers with each passing year. A significant section of football fans only pays attention to La Liga twice a year, when it's Clásico time.
This might not be a huge problem right now, since Real Madrid and Barca have the largest fan bases in Spain and Europe, while Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the most popular superstars in the sport, which means that many people still tune in every week at least to watch the big two. But it will end up being a problem at some point; even for Barcelona and Real Madrid supporters, the league will end up getting boring if nothing changes. Why would they change their plans to watch a match they already know their team is going to win?
The long terms effects are unpredictable at this point. Real Madrid and Barcelona's global appeal means that they won't become Rangers and Celtic (utterly dominant in the Scottish League and a non-factor in Europe) but one must wonder if they'll be able to dominate Europe if they aren't challenged in their domestic league. Maybe they will, as they'll continue to attract (or develop, in Barcelona's case) the world's best players, but will they have a league to compete in?
The root of this problem is the extremely unbalanced revenue "sharing". Barcelona and Real Madrid get €150 million a year, three times more than Atlético and Valencia, 10 times more than the rest of the league. This explains why the gap increases with each passing year and why even clubs like Valencia are financially strapped. The blame must lie with the two Spanish giants. While they're certainly entitled to negotiate their own millionaire deals, as they generate more interest than any other club, their unwillingness to accept a more even deal is destroying the league as a competitive tournament.
Barcelona and Real Madrid get stronger every year, but the rest of the league gets screwed over. They prosper at the expense of everyone else. Last season, a reserve Real Madrid side managed to win 6-3 at Mestalla, the home of Valencia...the third best team in the league. No wonder such thing happens when one of those reserves, Kaká, cost more than the entire Valencia squad. The gap looks likely to increase even more as only Madrid and Barca have access to world class players and they don't hesitate to poach the best players of the rest of the league. If one of the other clubs happens to have a world beater in their ranks, it's almost a given that he will end up moving to either Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Spanish football might be living a golden era, but their league is fast losing its credibility. It's hard to imagine who can even get close to Barcelona and Real Madrid in the next 10 seasons, probably even more. While this is a problem in most major leagues (the same faces at the top every year), it is taken to an unhealthy extreme in Spain, with the same two teams winning pretty much every week.
Last season, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a record-breaking 40 league goals. This was supposed to be an impressive achievement, but unfortunately it's not that impressive. The way things are, it will not be a surprise at all if Lionel Messi or even Cristiano Ronaldo himself score even more goals next season, maybe even both.
This gives the Spanish league a bad image, and a very undeserved one. The league is not just Barcelona and Madrid, there are other teams, interesting teams with quality players, but that tends to be overlooked when there's such a duopoly at the top.
The future of La Liga is in danger, and that includes Barcelona and Real Madrid. It's up to these two clubs to put an end to this by agreeing to a more equal revenue sharing. The current situation of two clubs having a stranglehold over the league just isn't sustainable in the long term, not for the league itself and not even for Barca and Madrid. If the league goes broke (not such an unlikely scenario at this point), Barcelona and Real Madrid will be the first to feel the consequences.
For the sake of the league, the two Spanish giants must let go of their never-ending greed and accept a more even distribution of TV revenue. Either that or the future of La Liga is bleak, very bleak indeed.
You can follow me on Twitter @Manueltraquete.
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