Spanish La Liga: The fall of an empire

Nothing lasts forever, which means all empires must fall. It happened to the Romans, British and Ottomans, and it’s happened to Spanish football clubs. Between 2009 and 2020, La Liga was the home of the European Champions seven times, with Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona reaching the final on many occasions.  

Domestically, although Atletico has closed the gap, it only serves to highlight the demise of former giants that ruled the Iberian Peninsula with an iron fist. The Spanish are on the run, and it’s down to these factors.  

Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo left  

It was always going to happen. Well, in the case of Ronaldo. Messi is a different matter who was mismanaged and forced out of his beloved club. Regardless of the motives, the results are stark. Take the Champions League, where betting on football points to a changing of the guard as Real’s odds are 16/1, Atletico’s are 33/1, and Barca failed to qualify. This would be unthinkable if Messi and Ronaldo still resided at Blaugrana and Los Blancos.  

A drop-off was expected since Messi and Ronaldo are arguably two of the greatest players ever to have lived. For example, the Argentine is La Liga’s top scorer with 474, while the Portuguese is the king of the Champions of League with 140. Messi has 125 European goals, too. Unfortunately, their departures coincided with periods of poor management and bad investments.  

The likes of Eden Hazard and Ousmane Dembele can’t fill the gaps left by these giants of the game. Therefore, the decline in performances of both clubs has been intensified, as there hasn’t been a successful transition period.  

Loss of revenue  

Unlike other major football leagues, Spanish clubs used to sell their TV rights privately. La Liga didn’t get involved, meaning Real Madrid and Barcelona charged extortionate fees for matches, while the rest of the league took what they were offered. The gap between what 20th and 1st place earned was substantial, leading to Real and Barca being the biggest football teams in terms of revenue in 2014.  

After La Liga decided enough was enough, the financial landscape at Camp Nou and Bernabeu altered drastically. Suddenly, in 2018, they were way down the revenue pecking order, placing 7th (Barca) and 10th (Real). Of course, more money for Spanish clubs means their rivals are hot on their tails.  

The outright La Liga winner odds for this season reflect the rise of competitiveness in a division that switched hands between the capital and Catalonia. Remember Atletico is the reigning champions, the second they have won the league title in seven years, and Barcelona is the 100/1 outsiders for the trophy. When was the last time Atletico was considered favourites over Barca? Not before changes to the TV rights’ structure.  

The cycle of football  

Like life, football goes in cycles. In the mid-2000s, English teams dominated Europe, winning the Champions League in 2005, 2008 and 2012. Plus, several quarter-finals and semi-finals featured all four Premier League qualifiers. After Chelsea’s victory in 2012, Spain took over.  

The baton was passed again, with Germany outperforming their peers thanks to the direct, intense style of plays adopted by Bayern Munich and Dortmund. Now, the crown is back in England with Chelsea after Thomas Tuchel’s men took on Man City and won.  

When you consider how much these countries have invested, especially England, you can easily see why Spain has fallen behind. After all, the English sides have all the best coaches and players, some of them Spanish.  

La Liga’s era will come again, but its clubs must get find solutions to major problems before they can attract the kind of talent they are used to seeing on the pitch. 

Spanish La Liga: The fall of an empire

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