I am an avid follower of La Liga. However, recently I am hearing more and more cries that it is boring. Questioning that, I decided to take a trip down memory lane. Also, whenever I am mentioning more than one team, I am listing them in alphabetical order.
What happened since the 08-09 season
Looking at the list of winners gives more food to the crying mouths of how boring La Liga is. Except for the 13-14 season that was won by Atletico Madrid, it was either FCB or RM, either winning it, coming in second, or sometimes coming in third.
The picture does not change much if you go back to 1929 when La Liga started. Sure, other teams have won the league, but it was sandwiched between either FCB or RM winning the league. However, there were five spills of two consecutive by four teams:
- Atlético Aviación (39-40, 40-41)
- Athletic Bilbao (29-30, 30-31, 82-83, 83-84)
- Atlético Madrid (49-50, 50-51)
- Real Sociedad (80-81, 81-82)
Yet again, for the majority of those times either FCB or RM came in second.
So, does that make it a boring league?
In the words of Will Smith "Oh, hell no"
Let us consider three important points:
- This league provides to the legions of football fans around the world an annual double dosage (and sometimes more) of nailing bitting, heart thumping, pure adrenaline rush ecstasy in the form of El Clasico. The never ending story, with many twists and turns along the journey. A fight that even transcends football. This match is the most watched football watch in the world every year
- While other leagues have 3-4 teams dominate the table. La Liga suffered from decades of disproportionate distribution of revenue from TV rights among the team. Giving FCB and RM the money and therefore the advantage to win bigger talent. However, since the 2016 law to distribute TV rights money evenly in La Liga, we are seeing some glimpses of Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal returning to competition. They just need more time to compete against the massive budgets of FCB and RM
- The performance of La Liga teams in Europe
In Europe, La Liga delivered to us
In the Champions League (CL):
- 7 out of 10 finals featured FC Barcelona (08-09, 10-11, 14-15) and Real Madrid (13-14, 15-16, 16-17, 17-18), with both teams winning. Let's not forget 2 All-Spanish finals between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid (13-14, 15-16), and an El Classico at the semi-final in (10-11).
- Real Madrid winning an unprecedented three consecutive CL finals, even when they were struggling in La Liga (15-16, 17-18).
- FC Barcelona is the only team in history that managed to recover from a 4-0 loss in the first leg of the round of 16 (to Paris St-Germain), and move to the next round. Who later could not score a goal against Juventus in both legs.
- Long standing rivalries between FC Barcelona and Manchester United only intensified after the latter losing two finals (08-09, 10-11)
- The rivalries between Real Madrid and Juventus reached epic proportions. Juventus defeating Real Madrid in the (14-15) quarter finals, later for Real Madrid to defeat Juventus in the quarter finals (17-18) and the final in (16-17)
- The memorable all-Spanish semi finals defeats of (12-13) by the all-German sides of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund
- FC Barcelona while leading in the first leg against Roma (17-18) and Liverpool (18-19), they succumbed to shock and embarrassing defeats in the second leg
In the Europa League (EL):
- 6 out of 10 finals featured Atletico Madrid ('09-'10, '11-'12, '17-'18), Sevilla ('13-'14, '14-'15, '15-'16), with both teams winning it. Also, there was an All-Spanish final between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in ('11-'12).
- Sevilla winning an unprecedented three consecutive EL finals
These teams did not just dominate La Liga, but they have given a generation of football fans the world over memorable, strong, exciting and surprising performances on the European level.
In these 10 years, no league has given so much excitement on the European level.
With the end of 2018-2019 season, La Liga teams are at a crossroads.
- Decades of favoring FCB and RM with TV rights money has resulted in the other teams not able to compete with the top three (including Atletico Madrid), with Valencia, Villarreal and Sevilla are shells of their former glory days and being highly inconsistent in maintain a top 4 finish
- Premier League teams benefiting from external financing and being more active in the transfer market has enabled them to challenge more on the European level. the result is an all-English finals for Europa and Champions Leagues
- FC Barcelona, with its golden team all but two players gone, are in a dangerous position by allowing Messi to make managerial calls, bad investments in players (yes Messi we know you are behind those), weak midfield and even weaker defense are grinding wins in La Liga. At Europe, they are suffering greatly in the last 3 years. It is time to rebuild and put the focus on the future of the team. It will take 2-3 years in my opinion.
- Atletico Madrid, the best defense in La Liga, and despite getting more money are not able to capitalize on the misfortunes of both teams to create continuity in winning or ending their dominance
- Real Madrid, despite the claims of its fan base that they do not rely on CR7, they succumbed to one bad defeat after the other in La Liga and Champions League. To be fair to the team, it is not because of Zidane departing or even CR7, it is because over the last 3 seasons, they did not invest in refreshing their squad
FCB and RM will need to spend big, rebuild and retrain to continue with their top European performance. With the maturity of both team's organization, this can be done in a year's time. Atletico Madrid will need a couple of good signings to strengthen their current squad.
However, it is Valencia, Villarreal and Sevilla that need to resort to extreme rebuilding efforts if they want to consistently challenge for 4th, and change the course of history.
But is it too late to recover against English teams that have been spending in recent years and getting stronger? Are the all English teams’ finals in both the Europa and Champions League a sign of a turning tide? It definitely might be, but time will tell.
Until next season, stay safe and have fun.