Sport Editor Ross Wilson analyses the issues facing Spanish football and whether or not La Liga is on the brink
Spain has produced an array of things to enjoy, tapas, reggaeton (another debate) and a style of football that at its height, was simply beautiful. Barcelona versus Real Madrid is arguably the largest and fiercest derby match in the world. Two of the world’s best players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, both represent Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. Yet Spanish football, essentially La Liga, could be slipping into a realm of obscurity and uncertainty.
English football ultras are on the whole a dying breed. Hooliganism still exists of course. Violence amongst sections of crowds throughout La Liga has increasingly boiled to the surface. The difference in Spain is that there are far more political tensions amongst supporters than there are in England, if there are really any at all. Fans of Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna recently clashed in the streets of Madrid, resulting in the arrest of 32 people as a Deportivo fan Jimmy Romero was found murdered in a river. Members of the far right Frente Atletico were involved.
The presence of various club’s ultras appears strong. The difficulty is many clubs rely on their ultras, they are in a sense needed. Financially they are a big plus, even for clubs like Real Madrid. Atletico supporters have tried to distance themselves from the far right group, but the Frente merely responded to this by quite audible chants that they shouldn’t sing their songs, as if they controlled the club. Racist chanting has frequently taken place, a number of high profile players have complained. So why is this suddenly making such a dismal impact?
Spain has a reputation to protect, the clubs don’t want negative publicity. However the problem has occurred of every fan amongst many of the clubs being treated with disdain by authorities, both inside and outside of grounds. More are turning off going to the football than ever before. Atmosphere is lacking in grounds, the game between fierce rivals Sociedad and Bilbao was described as soulless. The game reflected the lack of excitement around it, a drab 1-1 that Spanish media condemned.
In 2012 Jose Maria Gay de Liebana, an economics expert, said Spanish football must change drastically or it would ‘kill itself’. The inescapable fact is that La Liga clubs are increasing revenues, but not rapidly enough to cover costs. Issues currently stem from the league’s TV rights deals, whereby more money needs to be raised and essentially shared more equally. Barcelona and Madrid claiming a monopoly is not aiding future progress. The formation of an Iberian league has been muted, but is unlikely to happen anytime soon. The remote possibility of a Catalan league would inevitably only make matters worse.
Personally the state outside of the football pitch saddens me, I have always been an advocate of La Liga as being technically superior to the Premier League. That is beginning to change I feel. It is becoming less and less competitive, last season being an anomaly more than anything, an enjoyable one but seemingly futile in the long run. The increasing talent drain is leaving clubs in a position to fight fires instead of pushing on, even in 2013 eight out of ten sides who trailed the top two had to sell their ‘best’ players. Clubs like Betis and Sevilla are falling into a hole of restricted signings, it speaks volumes when Sevilla signed then 19 year old winger Jairo Samperio as a straight replacement for Jesus Navas.
90 minutes in Spain is beginning to feel more painful than previous years, and it remains to be seen whether extra time will be of any use.