La Liga: Why the Spanish League Has Taken Lead as World's Best

Samuel Marsden@@samuelmarsdenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2013

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 19:  FC Barcelona players pose with the trophy during the celebration after winning the Spanish League after the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Valladolid CF at Camp Nou on May 19, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

The customary lines spilled from Gareth Bale when he signed for Real Madrid last week. "I'm very excited to be here," he told Real Madrid TV. "I think La Liga is the best league in the world, it has the best players playing here and I can’t wait for it to start," reported The Daily Mail.  

Of course he'd already covered the "it's a dream to be here" line by this point.

Whether arriving in Spain, England, Italy or Germany, most players tend to lean towards the "best league in the world" line, but could Bale's thoughts carry more justification? Is La Liga now, definitively, the best league in the world?

UEFA's own metrics suggest the answer is yes. Their points system has seen Spain replace England as Europe's best league recently, and the evidence doesn't end there.

According to Forbes, two of the three richest football clubs in the world are Spanish. Real Madrid top the list, with Manchester United providing the filling which separates them from Barcelona, as The Daily Mail reported. 

Both have flexed their financial power this summer to sign some of the world's best young footballers too. Gareth Bale, Isco and Asier Illarramendi have arrived at the Bernabeu for over £100 million, while Brazilian international Neymar headed to Catalonia for around £50 million.

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But it's the players who already turn out for these two clubs which continue to provide La Liga's biggest draw. 

Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi are the undisputed best players in the world at the moment—between them they have won the last five Ballon d'Ors, and their goal scoring records were never thought possible.

In fact, nine of the last 14 Ballon d'Ors have been won by players playing in Spain's Primera Division, and since Ronaldo won the award with Man United in 2008, no other league has even been represented in the top three.

It's not just their players who dominate honours boards either, their clubs have been dominating the Champions League more than any other nation too, seen in a previous article on B/R.

Since 2000, no other country can boast as many winners of European football's flagship tournament. 

It extends further than that too: 35.7 percent of semi-finalists have been from Spain (England 30.4, Germany 14.3, Italy 12.5).

Lagging behind the Champions League is the Europa League, which has also been dominated by Spanish sides since the turn of the millennium though.

Five of the last 10 winners have been provided by Spain (Valencia 03/04, Sevilla 05/06 and 06/07, Atletico Madrid 09/10 and 11/12), while on two separate occasions La Liga have provided both finalists—Sevilla beat Espanyol in 2007 and Atleti beat Athletic Bilbao in 2012.

Then there's international football. Spain have won the last two European Championships and the last World Cup featuring a core of players who play in La Ligadespite the perceived exodus of talent, 10 domestically based players started the Euro 2012 final against Italy.

And then there are the players who flee for foreign shores after relative success in Spain but become immediate hits in their new surroundings—Swansea's Michu is a prime example of this.

The negatives? People will point to the league being let down by only having two teams capable of winning it. Hand on heart, how many teams can you see winning the league in Italy, Germany or England.

Can you see Juventus, who have won Serie A for the last two seasons, relinquishing their title? Honestly?

The Bundesliga has undoubtedly raised its game recently, but it also finds itself a two-horse race. Of the last 20 campaigns, Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich have won 16 between them, sharing the last four. Last season Bayern were 26 points ahead of third place; Dortmund had 17 points on third-placed Schalke the year before that.

Admittedly the Premier League has produced four different champions over the past 10 seasons, but at what cost are they seeking competitive balance? Last season they failed to register a side in the Champions League quarter-final.

That's not to say that these leagues are poor. Far from it, they're exciting and full of the world's finest players too, but it does dispell the myth that La Liga's quality is reduced by the dominance of Madrid and Barca. Those two would dominate any league in Europe.

Look at the success of sides like Athletic Bilbao ans Malaga in Europe in recent seasons, and then keep an eye on Real Sociedad and Atletico in the Champions League this season—La Liga is bulging with quality.

On a commercial and organisational level it has plenty to answer for, which makes everything highly frustrating.

The non-sharing of TV money and the absurd arrangement of fixtures is verging on bizarre, but with everything is has going for it, it is without doubt Europe's best league.

Imagine how good it could be if the LFP pulled their fingers out?

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