‘La Liga is the best league in the world’.
It is a phrase that has been uttered by players and pundits alike – but is it an obvious statement? Is it even a correct statement?
One of the most attractive aspects of football is it’s unpredictability - the notion that anything can happen at any time, the idea that the smallest of the small can beat a footballing giant.
Unfortunately, when it comes to La Liga, this notion falls flat with a resounding thud. There’s almost a sense of boredom around Spanish domestic football, such is the domination by the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Both teams receive a huge cut of the television rights for broadcasting La Liga games, leaving every other team in the league fighting for scraps. As a result, both Barca and Real can sign the best players in the market, resulting in a top-heavy league where the minnows stand only a fantasist’s chance of winning against the top clubs.
How utterly, mind-numbingly boring. I could not possibly contemplate being a fan of either Barcelona or Real Madrid, knowing that almost every week you will be pretty much guaranteed to see your team win; surely this cannot be what football is about?
The obvious riposte to this argument would be: “Ah yes, but what about Atletico Madrid? Didn’t they win the league last year?”
Well, yes, they did. You can’t argue with that fact, and yes Atletico’s successes last year were great to watch as a neutral - but only because it was so unexpected.
An article in The Observer stated that what Atletico had achieved through winning the league in 2014 was ‘barely believable’ – indeed, it was the first time in ten years that La Liga had not been won by either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Barcelona players and fans even applauded the Atletico team on what their accomplishment.
This is, quite frankly, ridiculous. How can it be that when a team such as Atletico Madrid win the league, a team who have produced and nurtured the talents of Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero and Falcao to name but a few, it is considered ‘an upset’?
Even worse is the fact that despite Atletico winning the league in the 2013/14 season, they received less money than Cardiff City, who finished bottom of the Premier League in the same season. Just let that sink in.
When it comes to Europe, Spanish teams are quite rightly regarded as ‘better’ than English teams. Until recently, the Premier League dominated the European stage. From 2005 to 2012, only one UEFA Champions League final, in 2010, did not feature a team from England. The 2008 final featured was an all-English affair, with Manchester United facing off against Chelsea in the Moscow rain; a re-match was only prevented the following year by some questionable refereeing decisions in Chelsea’s semi-final against Barcelona.
Comparatively, last year’s Champions League failed to see a single English club progress past the round-of-16, whilst Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid all progressed to at least the quarter-final stage. Barcelona, who won last year’s competition in a breathtaking display of attacking football, have now reached the semi-finals seven times in the past eight seasons. Real Madrid have similarly reached the semi-finals four years in a row, winning the competition in 2014 against Atletico, their city rivals.
Yet Spanish clubs have also excelled in the Europa League as well as the Champions League. Sevilla, the 2015 winners, have now held the trophy four times in the past nine years. Their most recent league position was 5th. Compare this European record to their English equivalent in Tottenham Hotspur, and the difference becomes clear. Despite having been a regular competitor in the Europa League since its inception, Spurs have never made it past the quarter-final stage. Yes, it can be argued that the Europa League in England often takes a backseat to the ‘more important’ domestic league – but with a squad which is more than big enough to handle domestic and European competition, surely they should at least be challenging the bigger teams in the competition?
But what about the teams which make up the rest of their respective leagues, the teams who aren’t blessed with the mercurial talents of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Gareth Bale? As fun as it is to watch Barcelona and Real Madrid on the European stage, they also have domestic fixtures to attend to; fixtures of which the majority hold no competition for the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The strength of the Premier League lies in the fact there ‘are no easy games’ – the way in which money procured from television rights is distributed ensures that teams who ordinarily would not have financial strength are able to secure players of a high caliber. This summer’s transfer window is a perfect example. West Ham, who finished in mid-table obscurity last season, have signed Marseille’s Dimitri Payet, along with Juventus defender Angelo Ogbonna; two players who are undoubtedly of a high quality. Crystal Palace have signed Yohan Cabaye. 16th placed Sunderland have still managed to sign Jermaine Lens from Dynamo Kiev for £8m.
Money undoubtedly plays a part here. It would be naïve to think that without the financial incentives, players such as Payet and Lens would still be interested in going to teams such as West Ham and Sunderland. But the fact is that money in Premier League is more fairly distributed, at least in comparison to La Liga. This makes for a more entertaining league as a whole. I don’t want to see two teams dominate a league just because the other teams have no financial muscle. I’d rather watch a league which has a more even spread of top quality players amongst the teams.
To finish, let me point you in the direction of a recent Sky Sports advert for the Premier League featuring Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. A stunning montage of the league’s greatest and most surprising moments is summed up by the charismatic Frenchman saying “That’s why my friends, this is the best league… in the world”. Spot on Thierry. Spot on.