Viva Espana… if it’s a procession that you want
Flicking onto Sky Sports 2 on a Saturday night, you would be forgiven for thinking that there are only three teams in the Spanish league: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and whoever else happens to be playing them. The bias and focus is appalling, but understandable. The coverage of football on television is nothing more than a version of X Factor, deliberately selecting acts that will produce the most viewers.
Last season in Spain, La Liga was the most uncompetitive league in the world (of the top sixty ranked leagues). Between them in the League Barcelona and Real amassed 195 points at an average of over 2.5 points per game. In England, the top two amassed 171, in Italy 162, and in Scotland (the perennial big two league) 168.
The two clubs scored exactly 200 league goals, and in all competitions there were 27 games where they scored four or more times. We may fear that we have a big three or four in England, but in Spain it is two, and two only.
It might be nice for us to tune in and listen to Guillem Balague and Gerry Armstrong opine on two versions of the Harlem Globetrotters in accents that could grate cheese, but does this mean that the league as a whole is good to watch? Or competitive? Or, more importantly, sustainable? Of course not.
The notion of competition is integral to the ethos of the game. It generates fervour within fans, prompting them to partake in the spectacle through attending games and television spectatorship. All other things being equal, competitive balance increases interest from supporters. Core supporters are unlikely to ever be put off, but subsidiary fans may be marginalised.
The evidence is there by looking at the average attendances of the rest of the top six in Spain. The average ground capacity of Valencia, Sevilla, Mallorca and Getafe is around 38,000. While the Bernabeu and Camp Nou may be full every week, the average attendance at the other four is 26,000, a 12 000 shortfall. And these are the most successful clubs.
The universal question: What will happen next season?
In Spain it is almost rhetorical. Forgive me for the list of facts that will follow but quite frankly, they are all worth noting:
Over the summer Real Madrid have appointed Jose Mourinho at cost of £7 million compensation. Mourinho has failed to win the league only once in his last seven seasons in management
1. Real have spent £65 million this Summer
2. Barcelona have spend £50 million this Summer
3. The total money spent on the 23 outfield players in the Real Madrid squad is £430 million
4. The total money spent on the Barcelona squad, of which nine are products of the youth system, is £237 million
5. Last season, Pedro Leon was Getafe’s player of the season. David Villa was Valencia’s. Both top six sides. One is now at Real, one at Barca
6. Six of the official World Cup All-Star Team play for one of the two clubs
Elsewhere, the situation is starker. Mallorca, despite finishing fifth in La Liga last season, were banned from competing in the Europa League due to the club having to enter administration with debts of £50 million. At Valencia, the situation is worse. Reporting debts of £360 million, the club has been forced to sell star players, and work on a new stadium has been postponed for the last two years. Even Sevilla, who cannot report the same financial troubles as the other two clubs, have only signed two players for a transfer fee this summer, and have sold Adriano and Squillaci.
Dreadful US television actress Christine Lahti at least made one salient statement when saying “Competition is very good… as long as its healthy. It’s what makes one strive to be better.” Don’t get me wrong, La Liga has the best players in the world, but they play for two clubs.
The best players, in the world,? Yes. The best title race in the world? Maybe. But the best league in the world? Don’t make me laugh.