Soccer Magazine

Final Thoughts on the Early Season Troubles off the Field in La Liga

By Simplyfutb01 @simplyjuan11

The European football season has begun. Well, at least in most countries. There has been trouble off the field already in at least three leagues that has delayed the start of the action. Turkey has been besmirched by scandal, while in Italy round one was cancelled this past weekend because of a strike by the player’s union. While the action is underway in Spain, a week ago it was a similar case there too.

The dispute between the player’s and the games’ governing authorities saw round one postponed. It had been twenty seven years since this last occurred. Despite ongoing meetings and discussions between the two parties, no resolution was reached until almost the final hour. Thankfully, matters were allayed and the football finally commenced.

Though there was little action on the field over this time, the lack of it turned many heads towards some of the underlying issues of the Spanish game. La Liga had remained a hot topic, albeit for the wrong reasons.

The player’s stance over unpaid wages had brought to the surface some significant issues surrounding, specifically, the financial predicament of many top flight Spanish clubs. The total sum of the unpaid wages that was the source of the argument was €50 million. The demand of the player’s was for La Liga to establish a fund to cover these lost wages and maintain it so that future player wages can be guaranteed.

It is no wonder that with this the financial struggles of the league have come under focus. Some commentators have suggested that these problems are so significant that just like the Spanish economy, Spanish football is set to suffer greatly. Such claims are not unfounded either. There are real problems facing many of the clubs in the league and some kind of reform is necessary otherwise these problems may yet continue.

Though Spain’s macroeconomic problems definitely are a factor why six La Liga clubs are currently bankrupt and why many others have recently filed to gain the same status, the real issue is the financial framework of La Liga that has added and exaggerated the woes of the effects of the country’s poor economic state. This is because it is one that, essentially, makes the rich richer. While the poorer fall further behind.

And the rich of Spanish football are, of course, Barcelona and Real Madrid. These two giants are two of the most popular and competitive teams in the world, the Catalans being outright number one. Not only are these two club the most financially powerful in Spain – and by some distance – but, according to Deloitte’s 2011 Money League report they occupy the two top spots in terms of overall revenue. In this regard Los Merengues come out on top.

Exactly how Real Madrid and Barcelona are getting richer, while many other clubs are fighting to stay afloat is due, in part, to the great disparity in the revenue generated from broadcasting rights. As it stands, similar to Italy’s Serie A, these rights are sold individually. Since the ‘big’ two can lay claim to 60 per cent of the total football fan base in the country, they earn significantly greater sums in this department.

Real Madrid’s estimated earnings from broadcasting rights alone this past year were €178 million while Barcelona received €158 million. Roughly, both generate €125 million of this from domestic rights per annum. Alternatively, Valencia, who placed third last season, earned only about €40 million from the selling of their domestic rights. The contrast is startling and it was reflected on the final league table too where Los Che were some twenty one points behind Real Madrid who placed second. And, it is no coincidence as often a strong financial position relates to on field success.

La Liga has always been characterised by the duopoly created by Barcelona and Real Madrid. Between them they have won the league 52 times in its 82-year history. Since 1985, only four times has the winner not been one of the ‘big’ two. In this regard, little has changed.

Today, however, the sheer strength of Real Madrid and Barcelona, both on and off the pitch, has but further widened the gap between them and the rest. Between them they boast some (perhaps most) of the world’s best players and the two best managers, while other Spanish clubs are often forced to sell their prized assets for financial reasons. It is rather common too that these players will end up at either Barcelona or Real Madrid or they move abroad to Manchester City.

Though the likes of Atletico Madrid, Deportivo and Valencia have been able to break the duopoly on occasion in the past, current signs are that this will become much harder for them. The great gap between Valencia and Real Madrid on the final standing suggests as much. So does the fact that between Barcelona and Real Madrid, in their combined total of 76 matches played last season, they only lost six.

While it is a joy to watch the Clasico, to see the world’s best team take on perhaps the second strongest team in the world, to see Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo battle to be the hero, to see two rather contrasting football philosophies collide and contest along with all the historical significance of an always dramatic tie, the repercussions of two teams holding such sway could be significantly detrimental to the league’s future. This, in course, could only be harmful to both Barcelona and Real Madrid too.

If matters remain unchecked, the ‘big’ two may only get bigger while other clubs are left to fight for third and fourth place which is the best they will be able to hope for. Many clubs, indeed, recognize this already and actually seem content or resigned to settle for this.

This was highlighted in January. There was a push by eighteen of the twenty top clubs to implement a collective bargaining agreement. In contrast to being an equitable proposal that would help ensure the overall competitiveness of the league, it was one that was still grossly favourable to Real Madrid and Barcelona. It was a show by the rest that they are indeed resigned to not competing for the league and are willing to put this in writing if they can ensure their future financial viability.

Such is the economic concern of the rest of the clubs are they willing to sacrifice competing for top domestic honours. The longer term consequence of such an attitude is that the competitiveness of the league will diminish and this will greatly harm Spanish football.

It is perhaps too early to claim that La Liga is the Scottish Premier League with ‘tapas and tippy tappy’ football, as some have quipped. In fact, it most certainly is to early when one considers that of the last eight Europa League/UEFA Cup winners, four have been from Spain with no less than three different clubs, Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla.

For all the financial and political disparity that exists between ‘big’ two and the rest, La Liga teams, in general, still remain competitive – certainly more than any Scottish team and much more their Italian counterparts – when it comes to Europe. Certainly, they may have to sell their best players and keep redesigning their teams in order to be so, but, with the country producing some of the best talent in the world, highlighted by the European successes of its under 19 and under 20 national sides, there is affordable young talents always coming through the ranks. Though the best may end up at either in Madrid or Barcelona, they do not all end up in these two places.

Nevertheless, reform needs to take place with financial sustainability the core reason along with trying to keep some semblance of competitiveness within league in the future. With the great popularity of Real Madrid and, in particular, Barcelona who continue to dazzle and defy belief, there perhaps never has been a better time for La Liga to implement change.


Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog