La Liga - The Duopoly Is Unlikely To End

Things change, eras shift, cycles come to a close, but it is hard to imagine any team other than Real Madrid and Barcelona winning the league. Ever again. Now that might sound melodramatic. It may also sound a bit ahistoric: after all, Deportivo de La Coruna won the title in 1999-2000, Valencia won it in 2001-2002 and 2003-2004. Real Sociedad could have won it in 2002-2003, Sevilla in 2006-2007. Could have? Should have. That they didn't looks more like a tragedy with every passing year. Besides, Madrid and Barca winning the league is not a new phenomenon - between 1948 and 1999 they failed to win just twelve of 51 titles - so why moan now?

Because the fear is not that Madrid and Barcelona are winning titles. It's that only Madrid and Barcelona can win the league. It is not that they always win the league, it is that they almost always win their games. All of their games. Such is the dominance of Madrid and Barcelona that it often feels as if draws have become the new defeats and narrow victories the new draws. Everybody hangs on Madrid and Barcelona's every move, just in case this is the game they don't win - but pretty sure that it won't be. The risk now for Spain is that they no longer even bother, that a 38-week season gets decided in just two fixtures; the two clasicos

For other clubs, success attracts destruction. It proceeds the dismantling of a team: good players don't want to play for anyone else but the big two. What's the point? They're paid less and win nothing. Barcelona and Madrid have taken different routes to their current domination and leads to destruction of other teams. It is not that the rest of La Liga is desperately weak - although some teams are - or that they are not trying. It is not that they are going through bad moments or have bad coaches. At least, it is not only that. It is that Madrid and Barcelona are ridiculously strong and dominant.

Competing against Madrid and Barcelona becomes impossible, even for very good sides. Their power of acquisition and retention are unmatched. Look at Madrid over the last decade: players are bought because they can be, signed with a complacency and a lightness of touch that can be staggering. And yet there is a desperation too; a must-have mentality. He's good, let's sign him. We'll worry about where he plays later. And if he fails, we'll get someone else. If he's in our squad, he can't play for anyone else. Even Barcelona, who have been hugely successful at developing their own players, spend heavily. David Villa, Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano and Zlatan Ibrahimovic hardly came cheap. The salary that keeps Leo Messi is beyond the reach of everyone else in the league too, Madrid apart.

What is brilliant elsewhere is normal at the big two: they buy others' best players - and sometimes, it feels, just for the sake of it. Esteban Granero and Sergio Canales are almost irrelevant at Madrid; at their last clubs they were stars. Royston Drenthe left Madrid as a laughing stock to join Hércules on loan. And it turns out he's actually quite good. Seydou Keita was central to Sevilla and a substitute at Barcelona. The big two clubs stockpile players, with the consequent damage to that player's development and the league itself. Other clubs cannot compete with them and the economic reality for the other 18 teams are so depressing and often feel like they do not even exist.

At the heart of that are television rights. They reflect an inescapable reality and are not the only source of income but they are the single most significant. Television rights are negotiated club by club rather than as a collective, Real Madrid and Barcelona earn in the region of €125 million a year in domestic rights (plus the money, guaranteed to them but not to anyone else, from the Champions League). The next highest is Valencia on €42 million. In one season, the difference between Madrid, Barcelona and the rest may not be felt. The gap may not matter. Over two or three or four, it is huge. Do the maths: over five years Valencia, third last season, make €415 million less than Barcelona or Madrid. A team like Racing de Santander will be closer to €525 million less. How the rest can compete with the big two?

The answer of course is that they can't.

The economic disparity between the two biggest teams and the rest in Spain is so alarming that it has become a major concern for the rest of the clubs. TV rights alone do not account for the differences between clubs in Spain. This is the single most important factor, allowing two clubs (Madrid and Barcelona) to operate on annual budgets at least four times bigger than any other team in the same division. Recently, a "collective deal" was presented to 18 of the 20 clubs in the Spanish La Liga. The deal resolved one really important issue. For the first time in history, the Spanish league will offer a "parachute payment" to protect teams that are relegated. Money will now be set aside to protect those who are relegated and prevent them from financial crisis that can lead to administration.

Although, the deal resolved one issue but, it did not break up the duopoly of Madrid and Barcelona. It could not because the "collective deal" does not make all teams equal. As part of the deal, 45 percent of the money will be shared among 16 clubs, with the final amount depending on number of Pay Per View hits, league position and a series of other variables. That left four clubs. Valencia and Atletico Madrid, the country's third and fourth most popular clubs, would receive 11 percent of the total, while Madrid and Barcelona would take 35 percent of the total between them. In other words, the inequality would be enshrined.

When 18 of Spain's 20 La Liga clubs agreed to a "collective" TV deal that would give Madrid and Barcelona more than a third of the total money, it appeared to be definitive proof that they had finally given up and signed their own death warrant. They might as well offer their congratulations to Madrid and Barcelona for winning the next 50 league titles. They had signed away their chances of success but it prevented their destruction. They are no longer aspired to be the best because they can't. In short, only two teams will be playing for the title while the rest will be playing for mere survival or their own "mini" league.

Related Articles:
La Liga: Top 10 Goals In "El Clasico" History
La Liga: A Brief History Of ''El Clasico''
Barca's Historical La Liga Title
La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid vs The Rest

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