Is Spanish football more polarised than ever?

February 22, 2010

SOCCER-SPAIN/BARCELONA-PRESIDENTReal Madrid and Barcelona dominate European football in terms of economic might and sporting success, a study of the continent’s five major leagues has shown.

But are the Spanish giants sucking the life out of La Liga in pursuit of short-term profits and at the expense of their long term competitiveness on the football field?

“The Football Transfer Review”, produced by sports marketing firm Prime Time Sport and published last week, showed Real and last season’s treble-winners Barca increased earnings to 407 million euros ($555 million) and 385 million euros respectively during the 2008-2009 season.

The Premier League’s top earners were Arsenal with 357 million euros, while Manchester United had slipped back to fourth with 317 million.

Real and Barca’s financial power also translated into sporting success.

The study compiled a combined league table of the English, Spanish, Italian, French and German leagues at the halfway point of the 2009-2010 seasons, which showed once again that the pair stood out in terms of results in their domestic competitions.

Barca topped the list having won 86.7 percent of the points available, Real were second with 78.3 percent, Inter Milan third with 77.8 percent and Chelsea fourth with 75 percent.

The Spanish league was shown to be the most predictable with three of the top four places being occupied by the same teams at the same point last year.

Real and Barca take around half of the money earned from individually negotiated television rights, and, as Barca president Joan Laporta told Reuters recently, they are not about to relinquish their duopoly in favour of a system of collective bargaining similar to that used in rival European leagues.

Teams considered to be outsiders for the La Liga title, Valencia and Sevilla, did not feature in the top 10 European clubs in terms of financial clout, or in the points table, and Prime Time Sport said their findings proved that “Spanish football is more polarized than ever”.

But it was the return to Champions League action on Tuesday night that highlighted the potential dangers awaiting Barca and Real.

Olympique Lyon were good for their 1-0 victory over Real in their last-16 first-leg, and the result was a shock in Spain after Manuel Pellegrini’s side had cruised to consecutive 3-0 La Liga wins over Espanyol and Xerez.

John Carlin wrote in Spanish sports daily AS on Thursday: “Lyon asphyxiated Madrid in such a way that one has to ask if La Liga offers adequate preparation to compete in the Champions League.”

If Real fail to turn the tie round on March 10, he added, “it would be a catastrophe for Madrid and very worrying news for the Spanish league”.

Former Italy and AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi was quoted as saying in Spanish daily El Pais last week: “The standard of La Liga, the same as the Italian league, has fallen a long way in recent years. Barca and Real get used to a particular way of competing and later, in Europe, they find themselves in situations they are not used to”.

Failure to reach May’s Champions League final at their Bernabeu stadium would be seen as a huge setback for Real, while a comparatively early exit for holders Barca would tarnish the golden reputation of coach Pep Guardiola.

Is it time revenue was shared out more fairly in La Liga, for everyone’s sake?

PHOTO: Barcelona’s President Joan Laporta gestures during an interview with Reuters at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona February 10, 2010. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino

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