The Copa del Rey is proof that Spanish football is more equal than it was

“The Spanish league might be more or less attractive, but it is one of the most competitive and it offers unexpected results. It has become a lot more equal, in one match anything can happen.”

So said Jose Bordalas to Sport in the build-up to Valencia’s Copa del Rey final with Real Betis on Saturday night. He’s right too.

Valencia’s very presence in the final is evidence of that. On the way to the final Los Che have beaten Utrillas, Arenteiro, Cartagena, Atletico Baleares, Cadiz and Athletic Club. The first two were beaten by two goals and ply their semi-professional trade in the fourth division. The rest were one goal margins. Narrowly passing by Athletic in the semi-finals, their highest ranked opponents are just two places and six points ahead of them.

For their part Real Betis have overcome Independiente Alicante, Talavera, Real Valladolid, Sevilla, Real Sociedad and Rayo Vallecano en route to the final.

Neither had to kill any giants to make it there. Athletic Club beat Real Madrid and Barcelona, while Atletico Madrid’s loss to Real Sociedad at least saved them from the infamy of another defeat to a side two divisions below them.

That leads us into a second final in three years with neither of the big three involved and just the second in 14 years. With the change in format ensuring a singular leg is played at the lower-seeded team until the semi-finals, the playing field looks just a touch less lopsided than usual.

It’s part of a trend though. Spanish football and La Liga in particular has been reducing the gap between top and bottom.

Naturally, a large part of that is the decline of the giants themselves. Without their most ruthless assassins, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, it’s true that the ruling class look a lot less intimidating than ten years ago.

Poor management and a slightly more even spread of the money have led La Liga’s Goliaths back down from Mount Olympus. Where previously they might have believed themselves to playing in a different league, their attempts to form a Superleague look a little delirious now that Cadiz are beating them more regularly.

In fact, Cadiz remain unbeaten against Barcelona since they were promoted. Perhaps the most frugal team in the league, definitely the most humble in terms of resources, Los Gaditanos are tooled up to take on the giants.

Of course this change is all relative, but there is little doubt that little David has grown. The ‘rest’, for lack of a better description of that virtuous group of clubs, are smarter, more astute and better tooled to take on the all-consuming titans of Spanish football. With little investment, Real Betis and Real Sociedad have more or less kept pace with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid this year. Villarreal have spent more but have outperformed everyone but Real Madrid in Europe.

This is not to suggest that La Liga is headed to an egalitarian model nor that there will be another title winner in the near future, but the big three have had some of their limelight stolen from them. The Copa del Rey is proof of that and it was not removed from them via skullduggery nor complacency on their part – it was taken by force.

As the noise of two enormous fanbases reverberates around Andalucia, that sound should be refreshing to Spain and La Liga’s fans beyond its borders. It’s the sound of a more competitive football culture. The tune drummed out for the big three is a classic, but the Copa del Rey is a welcome break from an overplayed theme.

Tags Copa del Rey Real Betis Valencia
La Liga - Club News