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LaLigaWeekly On March - 31 - 2010

La Liga Becoming Scotland?

Glasgow Celtic players

I read Sid Lowe’s marvellous essay this morning comparing La Liga to the Scottish Premier League, and while there is much to think about considering the mounting debt and the economic inequalities, we need to be examine things a little further. Not all is rotten in Spain, certainly not to the extent of Scotland.

Let’s look at his points one by one:

  • Repealing the Beckham Law will eliminate the “League of Stars.”
    • That’s an old argument. Look, players want to play at the highest level and while Barcelona and Real Madrid have, and will continue to have I might add, a competitive advantage over other teams in Spain, there will be a place for a handful of other teams to compete every year in Europe. As long as Spain has options open for the best players in the world, that place on the biggest stage in club football, and a culture and a language amenable to their roots, they will chose Spain even if the tax laws are equal. Anyway, what has the League of Galacticos really done for Spain? Really. The best player in the world is an Argentine raised in the Barcelona cantera. The best player on Madrid was an unsung teenager plucked from the first team squad at River Plate. The Spanish national team has a depth of talent that few other countries can match and all of them: homegrown at Atletico de Madrid (Fernando Torres), Sporting de Gijon (David Villa), Barcelona (Cesc Fabregas), and Valencia (David Silva) to name a few.
  • Madrid and Barcelona. They are La Liga. That is the problem.
    • I know that it’s fashionable to look at the more favourable economic structure in the NFL for instance and call that execrable league, that illegal cartel, as a paragon of stability, calling it the highest level of play for that sport, and want to try to bring a more even playing surface to Spain, but that would be a mistake. The NFL hasn’t created equality, it’s created mediocrity where successful clubs are penalized and failure is rewarded, where marketing is shared, even scouting is shared to maximize the collective brand, and the brand of the club is lost. Do you really think that the brand of Sporting de Gijon is worth the same as Barcelona’s? They would be if the NFL owned La Liga.
    • I see why the Valencias and Sevillas would like to even the television contract, their penurious owners would like a better distribution of television money, but does that necessarily ring in better football? You think if Spain shared their television money that it would be more competitive, like England, perhaps? Are you kidding me? In the last 10 years, 12 different clubs have enjoyed the nice Champions League payday that a Spanish berth in the top four brings. In England only two other teams besides their big-four have tasted that kind of economic glory. Valencia have won the title twice in the last 10 years. Depor won it once and finished second on two other occasions. Even relegated Real Sociedad challenged the top two, as did Villareal two years ago. Clubs like Malaga have challenged European slots in their first year up. A club like Mallorca, despite their economic woes continues to believe in Champions League football. That’s where the strength of La Liga is, in the meat of the table and not just at the top. La Liga is more than just Real Madrid and Barcelona, just not this year.
  • This is the dullest league in the world
    • So says the President of one of the cheapest clubs in La Liga in Real Zaragoza who often play some of the dullest football in the world, who fired his promising young Spanish coach (Marcelino Garcia Toral) for not winning enough games (3 out 11 games) but refused to look at the fact the team on the first division was hardly any different from the one Marcelino had led to promotion the Summer before. I’d be careful about quoting him. Sure, the league is a two-team race and will continue to be, but neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid are infallible. Their European form is a testament to that, so is their play in the Copa del Rey, but what is it about the league that has created clubs unwilling to take them on? Why do so many clubs capitulate at the Bernabeu before the whistle has even been blown? Is it that blowouts there can get coaches fired? Quique Sanchez-Flores and Manolo Jimenez, Atleti and Sevilla, both came into the Bernabeu and got a lead goal and then they set-up shop. Want to blame the league for being dull? Look to tactical choices made by dull-witted coaches, not infallibility at the top.
    • Pellegrini was also quoted that this was the best Real Madrid squad in its history. Guardiola, when asked about both being on 74 points already said, “Es una puta barbaridad.” Fucking awful, more like fuckin disgraceful I’d say, but that’s the more literal translation. Neither is correct. This isn’t even the best Barcelona squad under Pep Guardiola. Last year’s squad was better if not on the points table. The problem is that the middle of the table, those second tier squads with enough depth to give the big two in Spain a run for their money, have collapsed.
      • Sevilla which finished third last year at 72 points, are projected at 59 points: a dropoff of 11 points from last year. Atletico de Madrid which finished fourth last year at 67 points, are projected at 48 points: a 19 point drop from last year. Villareal which finished fifth last year at 65 points, are projected at 45 points: a 14 point drop. Valencia which finished sixth last year at 62 points, are projected at 20 wins, 10 draws and 8 losses or 70 points: the only club amongst the greats that actually grew from the year before.
      • The gap between second place Madrid last year and third place Sevilla was a manageable 8 points. If everything continues at this rate the gap will be 26 points at the end of this year. Is it just the fact that Madrid spent an ungodly amount? Last year Madrid lost to the likes of Depor, Real Union, Juventus and Valladolid. This year they’ve lost to likes of Sevilla, Alcorcon, Lyon and Athletic Bilbao. They are still vulnerable in cup competitions and they are susceptible to key matches in the league. What happened in that time? Well, there is that matter of the recession, and the fact that the challengers have all had instability in their management structures. Valencia are still reeling from their flirtation with Ronald Koeman in 2007-2008, Sevilla have missed the tactical nous of Juande Ramos, Villareal are lost without Manuel Pellegrini, and Atletico de Madrid are victims of being Atletico de Madrid. In short it is doubtful that the competitive gap in Spain is due only to a gap in spending between the top two and the rest of the league. You have to factor in the failure of the second tier teams.

I’m not naive. I’d love to see television money distributed more fairly. I’d love to see parachute payments and guaranteed paydays for smaller clubs. I understand that the game in Spain is not healthy, just this weekend the player’s association announced that they were considering a walk-out before El Clasico due to unpaid wages in the second tier of Spanish Football, but to compare La Liga to the Scottish Premier League is asinine. Sure, they both have major powers built on a socio-political rivalry, and they both dominate their respective leagues, but don’t assume that the likes of St. Mirren or Dundee United or Hearts are in any way the equal of a Valencia or a Sevilla, an Athletic Bilbao or even my own Espanyol for that ma
tter, in a storied league like the Spanish Primera Division.

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9 Responses so far.

  1. Siddharth Kanjilal says:

    Agree completely. Scotland is dominated by two average at best teams while the rest are just useless. Spain is dominated by two world class teams while rest are still good enough to finish at the top in a lot of other leagues. Trouble is Sevilla and Atletico have not lived up to their last season's form, while Valencia have lacked inconsistency. And give credit to Real and Barca for playing close to exceptional football this season.

    And as you said other teams have finished in the top places in recent seasons and the likes of Valencia and Depor have even managed to win the competition.

  2. Anonymous says:

    *consistency

  3. Walker says:

    @Siddharth, so right you are!

    I enjoy reading and listening to Sid Lowe but at the end of the day we have to remind ourselves who is paying the bills to write such suggestions. This is just another way of saying the English Premier League is the best to an English speaking audience. Spoon feeding the Anglo audience a fallacy of supremacy will fail terribly, perhaps even this season as English clubs lose back-to-back Champions League finals.

    La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga are in direct competition with the English Premier League and the new market they wish to conquer is the World. Fans of this beautiful game are no simpletons so suggestions will become more and more subtle in the British press on dominance until it exists no more…

    Great job Mando on taking the opposing view and providing a broader picture, Spain is no Scotland of Football.

  4. Ashay K. says:

    The time is right for the LFP to start distributing TV rights collectively. if u take a look at the last 3 editions of the liga, including this one, u will see a progression of records being made and broken by the top 2 teams.

    While this is good, it indicates a very worrying trend. Records generally have a characteristic that they are an one-off thing, and take a long time to break, which is why they are called a "record" in the first place. however, records in liga are being redefined, since every season a real madrid or barcelona plays which is better than its previous reincarnation. What this points to, is that either the two teams re getting stronger and the other teams re getting weaker or both. I feel its a lil bit of both.

    Due to the strong monopolization of the cash flow, the liga has become top heavy. Sid Lowe is evidently exaggerating when he talks about us being the new Scotland, but he does have a point. The way Madrid and Barca have ruthlessly taken apart opponents in the past 2 seasons suggests exactly this. The only advantage that Spain has, is that there's a plethora of talent even in the lower teams, which allows them to compete beyond their capability (in the 2nd tier of europe) and we can thank the youth teams of all the teams for this fact.

    But money does buy success, and evenly distributed money may raise the standard of the league to heights unimaginable. of course, it may have this slight problem that we (RM & Barca) would not be the same teams we are as of now, certainly not with Platini's financial fairplay coming in. The 72% salary cap is actually in preparation of Platini's financial fairplay scheme, which I'm totally in support of, though the prospect of us losing our financial sheen saddens me.

  5. Patrick says:

    Well said, very few SPL players could start in La Liga BBVA. Also, the vast majority of Spanish players do not leave La Liga and they are ranked #1 in the FIFA World Rankings. Scotland is ranked #41!

  6. Mando says:

    I agree with you Ashay, that clearly the top two teams are better than they have been, what I don't agree with is the assumption of a definite trend. I know that memory in football is short, but this isn't a new financial arrangement. Somehow clubs were able to compete, now they aren't, and I contend that it's more to do with the failure of the middle clubs in a footballing sense, not so much that the big clubs are infinitely better.

  7. Ashay K. says:

    What i meant was, the financial dischord between the other clubs and the top clubs allows Madrid and Barcelona to spend in the range of 30-40 million (net) per season on transfers. On the other hand, teams like Sevilla, Valencia, Athletico (well athletico have always been unpredictable on pitch)cant really spend any money in the market anymore.

    The scene gets uglier as we go down the table. Foreign talent & money is needed in the league, and if both are not spread evenly, then the league becomes top heavy. Of course, collective TV rights won't completely eradicate this problem. It'll always remain top heavy in favor of Madrid & Barcelona, but we'll probably see more competition and genuine title contenders than dark horses.

    As of now, teams facing Barcelona prepare to get a draw by closing up shop, while teams facing Madrid try to get as many goals as they can knowing that Madrid will still score more. There are hardly 1-2 teams who go against these teams with a winning mentality.

  8. Mando says:

    I'd be leery of introducing an English model in ownership, investment, or management, etc. This isn't the model of a healthy league either folks. I'd say worse. Spread the wealth, sure. Settle on a payment structure for television money, great, but don't facilitate corporate welfare and keep what works in Spanish football.

  9. Poor Scotland :( It's not our fault we dont have a good league, we have no money and we're a very small nation. Still think we'll stuff Spain in the Euro qualifiers though……*cough*

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