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Pundits in the Premier League and the Spanish Primera are currently rubbing side-by-side in parallel universes in the wake of the last-16 round in the Champions League. In England, the navel-gazing concerns the country's lack of participation in the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time since 1996. At the southern end of Europe, there's considerable cheerfulness and optimism over la Liga offering up three teams for the first time in a decade.
But as always in the world of football analysis, the tendency to go with the knee-jerk and extrapolate huge conclusions from irrelevant data is all too tempting. Arsene Wenger claims that the Premier League's sorry European offering this season is a "wake-up call" for the English game, but a kinder perspective on the journeys of the four failing sides offers support to Gary Neville's assertion that the sorry English affairs over the past few months are a mere blip.
Manchester City were unfortunate to be thrown into a group with a rampant Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid - two plausible winners of the competition. Arsenal had lady luck working against them by coming up against arguably Europe's strongest side in Bayern Munich, very early in the competition. Meanwhile, Manchester United faced a desperate Real Madrid who could afford to have players such as Luka Modric, Kaká and Karim Benzema - about €140m of talent - on the bench, not to mention an iffy game-changing red card for Nani.
Chelsea were just a tad incompetent, but let's not forget that they are the current Champions League holders, even though it would take an entire series of Mulder and Scully pottering about with torches and pretending not to fancy each other to find out how.
Away from the top two in Spain, the standard is generally better than is often thought from outside the country. The recent successes of Atlético Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and even Levante are a reflection of this. Then you've got the Michu factor. However, the sight of three la Liga teams in the last eight of the Champions League does not mean in the slightest that the Spanish game is in fantastic shape or in any way superior to the Premier League.
For starters, Barcelona and Real Madrid live in a separate parallel universe to the rest of la Liga. Both clubs receive around €150m a year in income under the current TV deal, up to ten times more than a side such as Rayo Vallecano. Remove these two giants from the Spanish domestic game and the league is left with Atlético Madrid as its strongest club - a team who owe around €200m in tax to the government and would sell anyone of any value to England.
The news this week in regards to the financial mess at Valencia, who were knocked out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage (again), concerns confusion over whether the debt-ridden club is owned by a debt-ridden bank or a debt-ridden local government. Neither seem keen on the idea. Sixth-placed Betis are in administration and the side one spot above them, Real Sociedad, were in administration and are currently reliant on a youth scheme as a power source.
Whilst Málaga's passage to the quarter-finals is an admirable feat, especially the aggregate victory over Porto, the team aren't a collection of plucky-nobodies delighted to be in the last eight of Europe. Over the past three years, the club's owners have poured €85m into the playing staff, although an important number of those investments, such as Santi Cazorla, were moved on once the realisation dawned that there was no money to be made from the game in Spain. The fact that Málaga currently find themselves out of European competition for next year due to a UEFA ban relating to outstanding debts is testament to the ill health of the league outside of the big two.
In an alternate universe, Nani stayed on the pitch at Old Trafford and Manchester United prevailed against Real Madrid. M'Baye Niang's shot went in to sink Barcelona's spirit and leave Spain's Big Two frozen out of the last eight and having a similar conversation to the one now being held in England. That's how slim the difference is between success in failure and why it's not the time for crowing in Spain, nor angst-ridden agony in England.
Spain's current success in the Champions League is a reflection of a bit of luck, a heck of a lot of investment and a golden generation of players at the Camp Nou that may be the best club side ever created. The English game destroys la Liga in every other aspect - organisation, finances, the concept of competition and realisation that it's the collective that leads to success and not individuals. In terms of these two leagues, form is temporary and class is permanent, which is why the Premier League is still leading Spain, despite what the results of the past few days weeks may seem to indicate.
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter
Good article, I completely agree. La Liga's house is made of straw and built on sand. They need to redistribute the wealth to save the whole thing, which would then weaken the big 2 significantly. One thing is for sure, it can't go on like this.- shenkenshalken