La Liga: A Two Team League?
Posted on August 21, 2012 by Joe Plewes
La Liga may have arrived in complete chaos, but arrive it has. Broadcasters finally settled a dispute over TV rights just hours before Celta Vigo hosted Malaga in the opening game of the season, while the lack of collective bargaining made for a protracted and rather bitter prologue. Teams are allowed to negotiate their own TV rights, meaning Barcelona and Real Madrid make three and a half times more a season than their nearest rivals (approximately €140m to Valencia’s €40m). Every year, the gap is widening.
That chasm in income has been made to look even wider by the imminent departures of both Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente, with Bayern Munich and Juventus attempting to dot the I’s and cross the t’s on two of this summer’s transfer sagas. The two Basque stars represent two of the leading lights outside of El Clásico rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, so their departures to the seemingly improving Bundesliga and Serie A respectively are surely unwelcome.
Malaga’s financial implosion has been even less encouraging, with Sheikh Al-Thani suddenly cutting his spending just one year after he splashed out on the likes of Santi Cazorla and Jeremy Toulalan. The departure of the former and possible loss of the latter are making it look somewhat of a struggle for the Andalusian outfit to improve on last season’s Champions League qualification.
A quick look at Oddslife this week also makes clear the disparity between the top two and the other eighteen. Osasuna finished 7th last season but are at a huge 9.00 to beat Barcelona, while 100% of punters have taken the Catalans at paltry odds of just 1.30. The obvious point of comparison is thus that Everton – who conveniently finished seventh last season too – beat Manchester United on Monday night.
Of course, an Englishman commenting on the two-team nature of La Liga may be slightly unfair when looking at last season. However competitive the Premier League was overall, United and City finished a full nineteen points ahead of nearest rivals Arsenal, with City’s home record (W18, D1, L0) even better than Real Madrid’s staggering record at the Bernabéu (W16, D2, L1). The thirty-one point gap between Barcelona and Valencia, as well as the fact Real mustered four goals or more a full seventeen times last season does emphasise the huge gulf, but the Premier League helps put it in a little perspective.
The SPL – at least up until last season – is an easier point of comparison. Rangers were in financial turmoil last season, took a ten point penalty and still finished a comfortable second to Celtic. With Rangers downfall it’s just a one horse race – with Celtic quoted around 1/33 to win the league. Perhaps La Liga is the biggest two team league in Europe?
La Liga does see a two horse race for the title – now more than any other top division – but it is not quite a two team league. The Europa League of course featured an all Spanish final in May and Real Madrid and Barcelona’s league hegemony is mainly because they are so good, not because the rest of the league is sub-standard. Yet the feeling is that the other eighteen are going backwards and the gap is ever widening. Can that change with such an unbalanced financial playing field?