Syria, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and many others have recently experienced revolutions as the people have grown tired of the existing rule. Tired of being looked down upon and having to play to the ruler’s tune. Change was needed, and while others have tried and failed, the modern times brought change in the country. A similar movement is on going in the World of Football as well.
The Spanish La Liga often claims that its the Best League in the World by citing the various stars on show. The likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Falcao and the rest of the FIFA XI really makes a case for itself. But critics allege that Spain’s primary division is a dominion of two football clubs. Barcelona and Real Madrid have dictated terms in the Iberian country for some years now, showcasing an array of talent and a stronghold of the trophies for the past few seasons. While the two Spanish giants are the only likely contenders for the La Liga crown, it has to be asked, is it really that closed and ‘boring’ a league.
Out of the 81 times the Spanish La Liga title has been lifted, 53 of those have been by either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Since the 2004-05 season, only one of these two has won the title and have occupied the top two spots as well. Villarreal in 07-08 broke that trend for a brief period by replacing the Catalan club, but order was restored the following campaign. The financial power, coupled with the reputation earned, harnesses this domination maintained by the two clubs. Footballers look to Spain with the dream of playing for either Barca or Real, with anything else being a ‘settlement’.
But over the years there have been teams who have challenged this dictatorship, in vain. Valencia, Sevilla, Villarreal are the chief revolutionaries who have dared to go against the authority. Valencia were the last non-Barca/Real club to win the La Liga, way back in 2003-04 when Rafael Benitez was an upcoming talented manager and not a “fat Spanish waiter”. Those times were different for Rafa, he was still loved and adored by the home support.
Back in those days, Deportivo La Coruna was a real force in Spanish football. They had finished the 2003-04 season in 3rd spot, ahead of Real Madrid and a point behind 2nd place Barcelona. More remarkably, they were knocked out of the Champions League semi finals by Mourinhio’s Porto 1-0 on aggregate. A Derlei penalty sealed their fate. This was a Deportivo side that didn’t feature a certain Roy Makaay. A Roy Makaay that scored 22 goals to help Deportivo to the first Spanish title of the 21st century, also helping the side take the runners-up spot in the following two seasons. Players like the skilled Brazilian, Djalminha, were important to Deportivo’s success. They even secured the 2002 Copa Del Rey with a win over Del Bosque’s Galacticos. That was as good as it got for Deportivo, unfortunately. To the surprise of many, much like Liverpool in England right now, they flirted with mid-table obscurity. Lingering between 7th spot and dropping as low as 13th. No one, though, expected what was to come, after seemingly regained a bit of control in the previous campaign, Deportivo missed out on survival by a single point. They were promoted back last campaign after winning the Segunda division, but seem to be dropping back down with success of the early 2000s a distant memory. More recently, the 2004 Champions League semi-finalists, have even filed for administration.Sevilla have arguably been the La Liga’s most consistent revolutionaries. Since 2003-04 they haven’t finished outside the top six, even finishing as high as 3rd spot, until only last season. They triumphed in the Europa League with back to back UEFA Cup victories in 2006 and 2007. It was a Sevilla side bursting with an array of talent with the likes of Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano leading the line. Current right-back in the FIFA World XI, Dani Alves and a young and talented Jesus Navas were all a part of Juande Ramos’s men. Star names had to be sold, including Adriano who followed Alves to Barcelona. Despite signing players like Alvaro Negredo, Hedwinges Maduro and beating off competition from Juventus for Geoffrey Kondogbia, Sevilla have failed to keep a hold of many of their talents. They are currently in the bottom half, lower than their 9th place finish from last season and they too seem to have gone through a failed attempt to challenge the dominance.
Valencia have been the La Liga’s biggest revolutionaries. They’ve constantly challenged the top two with a bit of inconsistency. But ever since Rafael Benitez left for Merseyside, the club have struggled to cope with the change and regain their reputation. A 7th place finish followed the title winning campaign and since then its been an irregular run of form. Results have varied from 3rd spot to 10th as financial difficulties forced the club to make regular sales. Villa, Silva, Joaquin, Mata, all players that were instrumental in keeping Valencia towards the top, left. And another one of Spain’s revolutionaries struggle to rise again, but continue to make an effort. Star striker Roberto Saldado has carried the team forward and Parejo, Feghouli, Canales, Piatti showcase a seemingly bright future for the Mestalla club.
Valencia are struggling to get back into the Champions League in the 2012/13 season, but there are plenty of clubs that are making an effort to make the La Liga more appealing. Atletico Madrid have displayed this season that there is more than just one club in the capital city Madrid. Diego Simeone’s men have done a remarkable job attempting to break the existing preponderance in domestic Spanish football. The former Argentine national team player has great squad at his disposal. Koke & Diego Costa are arguably two of the best younger players in the Spanish League while Sergio Asenjo & Thibaut Courtois are two upcoming goalkeepers. But the obvious talent exists in the experience of the team, not least of all in the final third with Radamel Falcao running the show. In fact, Atletico have regularly have had a world class striker in the squad, from Torres to Forlan, Aguero and now Falcao. These are footballers that any club would dream of having in their XI.Atletico currently sit in 3rd having recently relinquished 2nd spot to Real Madrid. The gap between the two sides is just a point and Atleti have the competence to go and claim the spot for themselves. A Copa Del Rey victory over Real and a 2nd place finish will definitely be the best season the club have experienced in recent times, this even with the UEFA Europa League victories of 2010 and 2012.
And for all the talk of Premier League sides being the best in the world, the La Liga have the highest representatives while the Premier League? Well they have squat. Malaga join the ‘dictators’ in the quarter-finals. Malaga have been a recent revolution with a season of spending bringing in some quality foootballers while talents like Fabrice Olinga are coming through. However Sheikh Al-Thani is not a regular sugar-daddy, or a sugar-daddy at all. The club, like previous revolutionaries before them, are embroiled in financial uncertainty and face an anxious summer. Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon were sold to ease the financial tension with young talents, Isco and Camacho are bound for the exit door as well.
Another welcome change this season has been the rise of Real Betis and Real Sociedad. These clubs faced a more fruitful time in the early period of the 21st century. With the blue side of the Basque country even finishing as high as 2nd in 2002-03 (Barcelona finished 6th that season!). Both have had Champions League experience and both have since been relegated. But they seem to have returned to prominence in the 2012-13 campaign. Pepe Mel and Phillippe Montanier have used their limited resources and average squads to great effect. Hopefully, for the sake of the La Liga, it isn’t just a rare occurrence.
Most Spanish clubs fail to realise their full potential, or achieve prolonged success due to the financial disparities. However, latest reports suggest that clubs from Spain have reduced their debt to the tax authorities by 8.2% in the past year. So there are signs of improvement, but unfortunately the financial crisis that the country faced didn’t evade its football clubs. Valencia, Malaga, Deportivo and many others have fallen victim. While Barcelona and Real Madrid have seemingly escaped and continued their rule. Separate and exclusive TV deals have made it even more difficult for potential revolutionaries to challenge.
But a bigger problem than finances is the level of inconsistency shown. Failure to hold onto star names is a problem for challengers too. Clubs constantly lose players to Barcelona and Real Madrid, while many leave the sunny country for greener pastures abroad. Villarreal are a prime example of a side not able to capitalise on their rise. Since 2004 the club have been aiming to overthrow the two giants. They peaked in Pelligrini’s reign, losing out in the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2006 and finishing 2nd to Real Madrid, an impressive 10 points clear of Riijkaard’s Barcelona. Relegation last season came as a shock to many. The club finished 18th having played in the Champions League the same campaign.
Clubs like Athletic Bilbao are a more recent example. After showing a lot of promise last season in a UEFA Europa League final run with a young squad which included victories home & away to the mighty Manchester United, Bilbao have struggled this campaign. Martinex was sold, Llorente is due in Italy, Amorebieta is out of contract and soon clubs will be prowling around for Iker Munian and Oscar de Marcos. Bilbao’s revolutionary indications last seasons were another sign of false hope.
While Sevilla, Deportivo and Villarreal have tried and failed, the 2012-13 challengers show a new dawn in Spanish football. Valencia have been battered and bruised, but are still hanging in there. A lot depends on Malaga’s Champions League campaign, but like Deportivo & Villarreal before them, they too may need to face the music despite impressive runs in Europe’s elite competition. Atletico Madrid currently stand tall as the saviour of the people. Everyone wants to see a change in the La Liga, and with Simeone at the helm, things are definitely looking up.