It was not only the final whistle, it was the end. Or so we were made to believe. As Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund reached the Champions League final in Wembley, knocking out Real Madrid and Barcelona in the semi finals, Spain’s golden era was over. The future was Germany, and Spain was finally paying for it’s Liga duopoly.
Fast forward 12 months and the critics of La Liga have been proven wrong. The apocalypse has not come and what we may be looking at is in fact another ten years of Spanish clubs leading the way in Europe. And, it all started with Rafa Benitez.
From 1993 to 2003, Real Madrid won the Champions League three times. Spain also had Barcelona in a final in 1994, Valencia in 2000 and 2001 and Alaves reached the UEFA Cup final in 2000. Not a bad return but not that great neither. In 2004 things changed and it was Valencia who started it all. While Spain, through Barca, have won the same amount of Champions League trophies since 2004, it has been in the Europa League, the name given to the UEFA Cup since 2010, that has seen a strong era of dominance from La Liga clubs. Benitez was the last Coach to win La Liga who wasn’t in charge at either Real Madrid or Barca. He was also the first to lead a club from Spain to UEFA Cup glory since 1985 and it kicked off a great decade of Spanish clubs in Europe’s second most sought after trophy.
Since Benitez’s win, Sevilla have won the Europa League three times. Under Juande Ramos in 2005 they won their first European trophy and they retained it the following year. They would win the European Super Cup once, a trophy that in Spain is highly valued. On the League front they were also challenging but success in Europe was easier to find, as other clubs would soon find.
Atletico Madrid were poor in the 2009-10 Champions League group stages. Luckily they finished third in the group and qualified for the Europa League. It was the first year of the newly named and formatted UEFA Cup and so it was a great opportunity to make history. Under Quique Sanchez Flores, Atleti made their way through the rounds, despite failing to impress. They made the final in Hamburg and won their first trophy in 14 years. The capital club failed to build on that success however, as they were forced to sell key players to balance the books and pay off debts but in 2012 it was a different story. Under Cholo Simeone, Atletico used that victory as a springboard and they haven’t looked back since.
When Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund knocked out Madrid and Barca, critics of La Liga were quick to point out that the Primera Division was finally paying for the dominance of the big two. It was the end, or so we were made to believe. A few months later Sevilla, having knocked Real Betis out in the quarterfinals, Valencia in the semi finals, won their third European trophy. It was the second time they won the cup through a penalty shootout but fans aren’t complaining.
In just over a week two Spanish clubs will fight it out in Lisbon to win Europe’s most sought after prize. On the international stage Spain have won the last three tournaments and the squads have always included players who have plenty of European experience. With that in mind, the big question is why aren’t other countries taking the tournament seriously?
From 2015, they will, as the Europa League winners, qualify for the Champions League and so it gives sides a very big incentive to play their strongest sides and try to win a competition that most sides are quiet happy to write off. UEFA have struggled to make the Europa League an attractive competition, especially for English and Italian clubs, but the new changes will definitely see clubs taking the tournament seriously from now on. Will Spain continue to dominate? The omens do look good.