Lack of competition threatens to stagnate La Liga

Posted by - September 3, 2010 - Ranting and Raving

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.

  • Neil

    Ya it always bugs me when people claim it is the best league in the world.

    On a slight side note, does anyone else get slightly creeped out at the wat Mark Bolton stares straight down the camera when he presents the matches on Sky? I always get very unsettled by it and would struggle to look directly at the tv.

    Also, Giullem Balague and Graham Hunter seriously irrittate me, they have a very arrogant “I am right, you are wrong” sort of attitude when they are talkinga bout transfers. La Liga aint my cup of tea!

  • bilby

    Trend toward all European leagues is for rich to get richer, poor to get poorer. That’s exactly what the top/powerful clubs wanted when they designed the Money Bucket whoops Champions League in its modern format in the 1990s. It’s not just Spain.

  • I would still

    Well, if you look at this history of La Liga and EPL champions the results don’t vary much at all. Yes, La Liga has two vastly superior teams, but the diversity of teams to actually win the table over time is almost identical when compared to EPL. I personally still think that La Liga has the better quality football. Watching the lower teams in EPL is frustrating. At least the bottom teams in La Liga can keep possession and not rely on their keeper sending every ball into the box hoping that they will get lucky.