COLUMN: La Liga shouldn’t aim to compete, it should aim to overcome its insecurities

Since Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi left Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, fans complain after every matchday of the so-called ‘downfall of football’, and how La Liga has failed to attract major talents. To add insult to injury, many teams are criticised for the famous ‘low-block’ approach. Simultaneously, the Premier League has grabbed all of the major brand name coaches, while most emerging talents also prefer England, despite the famous rainy weather. 

La Liga seems all over for many fans, even Unai Emery left Villarreal for a more exciting project in Aston Villa, casually bringing Pau Torres with him. The tight prism of financial freedom that La Liga President Javier Tebas has offered Spanish clubs since the pandemic leaves many critics angry, judging it unfeasible for big and small clubs who have been forced to sell. To many, that’s the reason for La Liga’s downfall. What if the critics are misguided, what if La Liga isn’t falling apart? 

El Clasico was an illusion, and fans turned an exception into the ‘new normal’. It might seem mind-shattering to many, but the era of Barcelona-Madrid domination was not a sign of La Liga becoming the new superpower. There was Barcelona, there was Madrid, and a little after that, Atletico Madrid tried to compete. What fans forget is that the rest of the championship did not benefit much from the dual domination. Until recently, TV rights were mostly awarded to the two giants — they still are, but the arrival of Tebas has seen fairer distribution.  

It hurts to not be the winner anymore, and the coping mechanism Cules and Madridistas have found is none other than blaming Tebas for all the troubles their own clubs have gone through. In any case, a healthy championship would see the growth of all clubs, not just the top two.

Under the illusion of the prime Clasico era, fans expected their dominance to continue. The Italians dominated under Catenaccio, the Spaniards just had their part of the cake. The Premier League has returned to a dominant position; yet fans keep thinking the crown should be theirs, despite the natural cycle showing otherwise. A major critique has been the amount of money spent – the Premier League has spent billions this summer, while La Liga, as a whole entity, couldn’t spend half a billion. What this doesn’t reveal though, is that the Premier League’s financial planning has been coordinated for decades, adding to a natural advantage with the English language. While the Premier League was developing its products for new markets in the 1990s, La Liga had clubs that found themselves at risk of bankruptcy — a very different reality.

La Liga has to sell, and it can’t keep doing what it is doing, but it also shouldn’t look to compete with the Premier League. Instead, it should focus on itself. Importing talent is part of the Premier League’s nature. It is in the nature La Liga, on the other hand, to export talent. Many Spanish academies are seeing reforms, and as more clubs realise the financial and tactical advantage of rearing ‘home-grown’ players, the role of the academies is only growing further. La Masia, despite facing a tough time under Josep Maria Bartomeu, is seeing a renaissance (Gavi, Lamine Yamal, Alejandro Balde). Osasuna and Real Sociedad are examples of other clubs that are relying on their academy and local products to sell themselves as new forces in the country’s landscapes. Cheap scouting allows low-budget clubs like Girona and just-promoted Las Palmas to entertain the masses, despite the financial reality of Spain still recovering from the pandemic.

La Liga’s board should be looking at how it sells itself — as a country that has technical profiles, and drilled sides that require expertise in closed spaces to advance and win games. That’s what Girona has shown, much like Real Sociedad and Real Betis. It’s a product very few (or no) countries have when looking at other leagues. That combination is fun for those that prefer vibing to Spain’s footballing musicality a la malaguena to the hyper-athletic product the Premier League proposes. It can be considered more local, and requires fans to look beyond the top three (Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid). 

It also however means La Liga needs to stop its politics power-play culture, as the Luis Rubiales kiss of death and the acts of racism against Vinicius Junior have shown. Before Spain can attract new audiences, it needs a clean-up operation within. It needs to be able to allow players to focus on football, instead of sideline drama. 

Spanish football needs to understand itself better – give fans a reason to watch, which is possible, and stop moaning about the Premier League’s current superiority. Tebas is often on Twitter arguing against a wall, in turn giving a bad image to La Liga. It’s maybe time for La Liga to talk less, change more. More and more sides are showing signs of more local products in their football, and that’s what it should rely on. Never has whining about the Premier League’s success brought new fans to La Liga’s clubs.  

Having a local product isn’t a given in an era of hyper-globalisation, especially in light of the recent Saudi takeover in football. Uniqueness is what gives Spain an edge, a reason to be different, and a reason to evolve — recognising it as a marketing target and making it a product nobody else can boast of currently elsewhere. The day La Liga stops complaining and starts realising its hidden potential will be the day non-Spanish speaking fans may start looking at Spanish clubs as an alternative, a change, a refreshing source of water in the thirst of hyper-capitalism. Humanity where some don’t find much amid transfers. Every year, La Liga exports talents, and that’s perhaps a selling point that could be exploited. 

Tags Atletico Madrid Barcelona La Liga Premier League Real Madrid Real Sociedad

1 Comment

  1. Tebas is in over his head, and has been for years. It’s too bad that it’s only coming to light now.

    Work to be done.

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