Competition for places

You know how the average conversation at the local pub used to go concerning La Liga. It usually consisted of a damning verdict that the Spanish top flight was boring and uncompetitive, occasional similarities made with the Old Firm duopoly of Celtic and Rangers and, at times, accusations of the football being too slow to enjoy. Times have changed, though. A victory for Villarreal over Real Madrid and a draw for Deportivo La Coruna at Camp Nou last weekend prove this and even the most devout of xenophobes will now come to the realisation that La Liga is the best League in the world – and it’s only getting better.

The rise of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid first broke the duopolistic nature of the title race by winning the League in 2014. Admittedly, there was a 14-point gap which separated Atleti from second-placed neighbours Real Madrid at the end of last season, but their position as joint leaders at the time of writing shows they are once again ready to mount a serious title challenge.

On top of this, over the past 10 years, Spanish clubs have dominated Europe. A combined total of 11 Champions Leagues and Europa Leagues/UEFA Cups have been won, with 79 percent of the semi-finalists in the same competitions since 2010 being Spanish. It looks as though there could a similar story this campaign as Spain are the only team in Europe with all their teams left in continental competition. Barcelona, Madrid and Atleti have progressed to the knockout stages of the Champions League, while Valencia, Sevilla, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao are at the same stage in the Europa League. 

Therefore, the quality of Spanish sides is peerless. Yet, when it comes to the competitiveness of the League, there still seems to be an issue. There is an obvious gap between the best and the rest as the likes of Valencia and Sevilla don’t really stand a chance of winning La Liga. But this is something that must be accepted due to the fact that there are two superpowers, who financially cannot be matched. 

It is all well and good saying it would be a lot more entertaining if a greater number of teams could win the League, but that would be detrimental to the performance of teams in Europe and the overall standard of the competition. You could argue that five or six teams in the Premier League could win the title but, being brutally honest, not one of them stand a good chance of winning the Champions League. 

A new TV deal for La Liga was announced in August, and although the €1 billion falls well short of the nearly €7bn in England, it is still a positive for clubs in Spain. The deal comes into play at the start of next season, and it means clubs will earn a much fairer share of the TV money distributed by the League, despite the fact Barca and Madrid will receive roughly the same amount as they do now. This could be a good thing, though, as it means the highest of standards will still be maintained, but the rest of the division can put up a much better fight. Players should no longer be so eager to find pastures new in countries with promises of higher wages and better facilities.  

The deal will certainly go some way towards closing the League divide, but the way things are shaping up this season suggests it could be happening already. The results of the weekend provide evidence for this, and the rise of Celta Vigo and Depor into fourth and sixth place respectively highlight it too. If their form can be continued then the race for European football could be very interesting come the end of the campaign. 

Ultimately, the two key ingredients when assessing the calibre of a football League are quality and competitiveness, but the reality is that these two things very rarely go hand in hand. La Liga has unrivalled quality, and if that can be coupled with the slowly-increasing competitive nature of the division then Spain could have some recipe on its hands.