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.