Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThe problem facing Spanish football - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough The problem facing Spanish football - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

The problem facing Spanish football

Some football fans believe La Liga is slowly becoming the biggest and best league in the world. You can’t exactly blame them; Spain does posses two of the world’s biggest sides in Real Madrid and Barcelona, arguably the greatest player of my generation in Lionel Messi with Cristiano Ronaldo coming a close second and the national side currently holding onto the World Cup and European Championships with a smug grin on their respective faces.

When the nation is the world’s best in the game and, on a club level, one of the top two is dominating European football, it is hard to disagree with the majority that believe the best football is coming from La Liga. However, when you take a moment to look at the broader image, you will see all is not as rosy as it all seems in Spain’s top flight.

Barcelona may play the football that dreams are made of while Real Madrid will forever be a global brand but when it comes to the ‘best of the rest’, you will see the rest continue to lag behind the league’s top two sides. Third placed Valencia finished a massive 25 points behind last year’s champions Barcelona while Europa League qualifiers Sevilla, Atletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid all finished level on 58 points, a whopping 38 points behind the Blaugrana.

In comparison to the biggest leagues across Europe’s Europa League qualifiers, Tottenham Hotspur finished 18 points behind champions Manchester United, Lazio 16 points behind AC Milan and Hannover 96 15 points behind Borussia Dortmund, it is a stark contrast to the ability to compete on the biggest level behind their Spanish counterparts. In the English, Italian and German leagues that were mentioned, finishing in a Champions League place is the aim for a number of these teams who often dream of winning the title.

In Spain, however, dreams of usurping the big two are left simply in tatters when reality kicks in that becoming the number 1 team in Spain is a near on impossible task and while some may argue that the competition between the two is enough to make it the world’s best, some fear that La Liga is beginning to resemble the Scottish Premier League rather than challenge the English Premier League as the best league in football.

When you compare the two, you will see that both have two stand-out candidates as the best in the league; Spain has the aforementioned Barcelona and Real Madrid, heated rivals Celtic and Rangers are the Scottish equivalent. The ‘best of the rest’ was Hearts in the SPL, who finished third last season, a massive 30 points behind eventual champions Rangers.

Furthermore, the financial clout of the top two sides in comparison to the rest of the league really leaves the average scratching their head in disbelief. I relate back to the superb article by Sid Lowe in this month’s issue of World Soccer. In his double-page spread on the recent (almost) strike action in Spain, he outlines the money that the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid make in terms of TV revenue (120 million Euros between) in domestic TV rights in comparison to third placed Valencia who could take back almost a third of that figure (42 million Euros) to supplement the rights to show their games.

Sid also explains that La Liga brings in almost half of what the Premiership brings in TV revenue (1,270 million Euros compared to the 612 million Euros) and while Manchester United may only earn around 60 million Euros, half of what Real Madrid and Barcelona bring in, the 42 million Euros that Valencia took from TV revenues last year is only 1 million Euros more than what Premiership debutants Blackpool bought in for their relegated campaign via the same channels.

Spain’s elite are also facing a mounting debt crisis with the total debts of Spanish clubs amounting to around 4 billion Euros, with Madrid and Barcelona owing the colossal amount of 1 million Euros between them. However, the two giants of the game can service their debts with around 60% of Spaniards claiming to support the champions and the runners’ up thus allowing them to generate massive revenue through advertising, merchandising and the aforementioned TV revenue.

It appears as though the only way to challenge the top two is through massive financial backing off the pitch which is where Malaga come into the fold. Back in June 2010, the lowly Spanish outfit were purchased by Qatari investor Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani and as of July that year, the wealthy Sheikh became President of the club and after finishing 11th last season, bought it upon himself to bankroll the club to the upper echelons of Spain’s top tier.

Manuel Pellegrini, previously of Villarreal and Real Madrid, was bought in to send the Spanish side up the table and with him, a mass number of superstars followed. Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Joaquin Sanchez and Santi Cazorla all joined this summer to help propel the club up the table and despite losing their opening encounter to Sevilla 2-1, big things are expected of them.

However, fans of the club have every reason to be cautious about their new owners, especially after the furore surround Racing Santander when the club was bought by Ali Syed. Hailed as a saviour of the club, the Indian entrepreneur then disappeared without a trace with his shares now being fought over in court.

A false dawn for not only Racing fans, but perhaps fans of the Spanish game hoping to find a new team that can challenge the monopolising Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of the La Liga pedestal. Having lasted longer than Ali Syed, Sheikh Al-Thani has invested heavily in Malaga and while it may be a long and bumpy road in the journey to usurping the European heavyweights, some are hoping the trip will be worth it in the long run, even if the money has to arrive from outside investors rather than the ability of La Liga’s top sides to break the stranglehold that Madrid and Barcelona have had on the league since 2004, when Valenica became the last club outside the two to win the competition.

Ben McAleer @BenMcAleer1

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