In recent years Spain’s premier division, La Liga has been viewed by many as probably the best league in world football. A league in which world class teams, with a great history and youth policy, play breath-taking football and cut a swathe through the Champions League. These teams look an attractive prospect as they battle Europe’s elite, however domestically there have to be questions raised about the credibility of La Liga as a contest.
This is due in no small part to the fact that the league is dominated almost exclusively by two teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Indeed, since 2004 only those two sides have won the La Liga title, creating something of a duopoly. In this respect the league is very similar to the much derided Scottish Premier League (SPL), which since its inauguration in 1998 has boasted only two winners, Rangers and Celtic. In many respects La Liga is effectively the SPL but with a bit more flair.
La Liga boasts teams of a much higher quality than the SPL; however the format of a relentless duopoly is depressingly similar. Many have questioned whether any sides are equipped to challenge the Barcelona/Real Madrid dominance of Spanish football.
The signs are fairly ominous as the two sides have squads packed full of world class talent and with seemingly limitless funds for the transfer market. Additionally the status of the two clubs is such that they can attract talent the world over and any top player considering a move to La Liga will doubtless be casting glances in their direction. This presents the issue of stock-piling, with the two clubs buying coveted players solely to prevent other teams from signing them.
Prize money is a further problem, with reports showing that last season Real Madrid and Barcelona took 40% of the total prize money for the league, leaving them with a much stronger financial advantage than their counterparts.
So are any teams equipped to topple the ‘Big Two’? The closest anyone has come was in the 2007-08 season when an impressive Villarreal roared to second place, 10 points clear of Catalan giants Barcelona; they were relegated four years later. Sevilla came close in 2006-07 when they were pipped by Real Madrid whilst Atletico Madrid have won two European trophies in the past five years, but are yet to topple the duo. Malaga, buoyed by the 2010 injection of Sheikh millions, managed a 4th placed finish, but were still way off the pace. Even Athletic Bilbao, who took Europe by storm last season, have fallen short on the domestic front. With the top players at these clubs departing for pastures new it looks unlikely that any team will be able mount a serious assault on La Liga, at least for the foreseeable future.