Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is the Spanish league "third-world"?

*We might be marveling at the brilliance of Barcelona every time the blaugrana grace the field, and shake our heads at the bottomless bank account of Real Madrid, but the Spanish league is as absurdly top-heavy and devalued as the Scottish league.

The two giants won 5-0 and 6-0 respectively on the opening day of the Spanish season, leaving Villareal president Fernando Roig to exclaim in anguish, "It's a third-world league in which two clubs are sapping the TV money...I give it three to four years. Either it changes or we kill Spanish football." In third place in La Liga last season were Valencia, a full 21 points behind Real and this season the gripes are getting louder. Seville's president has blasted Spanish football as "not the biggest mess in Europe but in the world".

Euro 2008 winner Marcos Senna concurred: "The superiority of Real and Barca is brutal."

Three clubs other than Barça or Real have won La Liga in the past 15 years: Deportivo La Coruna in 2000 and Valencia in 2002 and 2004.

The problem is historic, with Real Madrid built up by the Franco regime into a mega-club and Catalonia focusing its cultural and political frustrations onto its soccer team. Two weeks ago I was in the Castile province of northern Spain and watched the Barcelona v Real Madrid Super Cup second leg, which kicked off at 11pm local time.

It was almost like watching Spain in the World Cup with the whole town glued to multiple TV screens in the main square. TV is the problem, as the clubs negotiate individual deals which inevitably favours the two giants. The locals in Ponferrada were largely pro-Real, as is the majority of Spain, but there were plenty of youngsters in Barça shirts too, presumably having grown up on Ronaldinho.
Most of Spain is like this is in my experience. The big two have too big a hold on the nation. That said, at a national team level, this period of Barça/Real saturation has coincided with Spain winning Euro U-19, Euro U-21, the European Championship and the World Cup. This season began with Spanish players going on strike over money. How long before the imbalance in La Liga results in a breakaway?

*Dunga and David Trezeguet are the latest to take the Arab shilling, having agreed to take jobs with club sides in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates respectively.

The 4
7 year-old Brazilian most recently coached his nation at the World Cup finals and will coach Al Rayyan, while the 33 year-old French striker leaves a storied European career including spells at Hercules, Juventus and Monaco. 'Trez' won the World Cup with France and scored the winning (golden) goal in the Euro 2000 final. He will now play for Baniyas SC.

No doubt he, like Dunga, are heading to the Middle East for the stratospheric salaries and little else, but in footballing terms it still seems a shame to be moving to real soccer backwaters in search of one last big payday.
*Best wishes to Owen Hargreaves as he attempts one last resurrection of his injury-plagued career at Manchester City. The Canada-born midfielder, it is easy to forget, was England's best player at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, despite, or perhaps because he had never played in English club football, gaining his soccer education instead first in North America and then at Bayern Munich.

-Sean O'Conor 

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