El Centrocampista

BRIDGING THE GAP – Can anyone in La Liga catch the Big Two?

By Olly Dawes

Once the strikes and the political arguments had died down, La Liga got off to an explosive start – but one topic was dominating the media.

Real Madrid swept aside a poor Zaragoza side 6-0 in Aragon, with last year’s Pichichi winner Cristiano Ronaldo bagging an impressive hat-trick, whilst Xabi Alonso and Brazilian duo Marcelo and Kaka also got their names on the scoresheet.

In what was seen as a sign of Madrid’s improvement, or possibly Zaragoza’s demise, Madrid thought they had laid down a marker to their fierce rivals, easing their way through the game and scoring at will.

Then Barça kicked off.

A regular top four side in Villarreal arrived at the Nou Camp having lost key players like Joan Capdevila and Santi Cazorla, but were still expected to give Barcelona a game, challenging last year’s Champions.

But the Submarine sunk without a trace as Barcelona absolutely ran riot – without Pique, Puyol, Alves, Xavi and Villa – all world class players.

Pep Guardiola was even forced into fielding an unfamiliar 3-1-3-3 system, playing Mascherano, Busquets and Abidal in an unusual defensive line – remember only one of those players is a natural defender, and even Abidal is naturally a left back.

So given all of these problems for Guardiola, how did his team manage to steamroll a very good team 5-0? How big is the gap between the Clasico adversaries and the rest?

Challengers Villarreal have been weakened by losing key players.

Are there two competitions evolving in La Liga? The battle for the title and the battle between everyone else?

The power these two sides have is unparalleled. We have to start with the main point – finances.

The main two revenue streams that are unfair in La Liga are shirt sponsorship deals and TV rights.

The sponsorship deals issue has been covered in great detail prior to the season’s start, even on this website.

Six teams started the season without sponsors, and whilst Espanyol secured a deal recently, big teams like Atletico Madrid and Valencia are without sponsors, losing £5m per year – whilst Barcelona and Madrid earn around £25m per year with their deals.

With the second revenue stream, there is cause for concern. Barça and Madrid earn so much money through TV rights. The pair of them earn €140m in television revenues – each. Per year. The next closest revenue comes in at just €48m for Valencia, and upon seeing these figures, you begin to see why the gap is getting wider and wider every year.

Teams cannot compete with the financial strength they hold – even Malaga, who are backed by Dubai billionaires, will not be able to challenge for the top two positions for some years yet.

So what can be done? What can prevent La Liga becoming a rich man’s Scottish Premier League?

There certainly needs to be more regulation in the distribution of TV Revenues. Sevilla president José María Del Nido has drawn strong criticism from Madrid full back Sergio Ramos for some scathing comments that were made about the structure of La Liga:

“The reality is that they have chosen a terrible decision in order to continue widening the difference between the big clubs and the rest: to charge the radios.

“For the love of God, are there any fans not saying that the league is prostituted, adulterated, corrupted? The radio income will be another scrap to make the biggest clubs bigger and the rest even smaller.

“Our tournament is not just the biggest joke in Europe, but in the world. It is a third-world league in which two clubs take the others’ television money,”

Ramos responded by saying: “I could never come to appreciate what Del Nido said, but if he does not like it here then find another.

“I am excited about this season.”

In my opinion, this is only stoking the fires, as Ramos appears to be overlooking a very obvious problem in the league, which maybe isn’t considered at the top of the league.

Valencia offer the best threat to the Top Two, as they continue to strengthen by selling players – this may sound odd, but since selling Villa and David Silva, they strengthened their entire squad.

This has been repeated this summer with the purchases of good, young players in Diego Alves, Adil Rami, Victor Ruiz, Dani Parejo, Sergio Canales and Pablo Piatti.

But for all their improvement, Valencia still finished 21 points behind Real Madrid in 2nd place, and a further four points behind Barcelona at the summit.

There has been speculation that the league are about to implement a system similar to the Premier League; whereby the money from TV is split more evenly, allowing smaller clubs (with no disrespect) like Stoke, Bolton, Wigan, Wolves and West Brom a chance to establish themselves in the Premier League.

But then again, English football implements a huge parachute payment scheme, helping clubs that have been relegated with some extra money, giving them a cushion, of sorts.

Clubs in England are struggling too though, so should the Spanish league’s operate a similar policy?

The lower league clubs are failing to pay wages, hence the strike action taken just a few weeks ago.

It would appear that the rest of league will have to take advantage of the Barcelona/Madrid dominance by purchasing some of their fringe players – this method has been seen regularly in the shape of Sergio Canales and Roberto Soldado at Valencia, Alvaro Negredo at Real Madrid and Pablo Sarabia at Getafe.

The fact still remains though – nobody in the world can compete with the power of these two giants of football, so how can we expect smaller clubs to?


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