The argument over which is the best league in the world is a tedious one, and one that can never have a conclusive answer. Some say it is the Premier League, with its vast riches, high-profile managers and competitive nature, while others contend that La Liga, home to the world’s two best players and Europe’s two most successful clubs of recent times, has the edge.
All of these points are open to debate (and Lord knows they are debated incessantly), but one area in which the Premier League undeniably has the upper hand is in the organisation and administration of its governing bodies.
There are a number of problems currently facing La Liga and the Spanish FA (RFEF), not least the scandal that is currently embroiling RFEF president Ángel María Villar, who has been arrested on charges of embezzlement. While these allegations have not yet been proven, it would be a surprise to the people of Spain if there wasn’t corruption at some level of football governance, given that corruption scandals have pervaded all levels of public administration over the last decade – a time in which the Spanish economy was brought to its knees, but the brown envelope industry appears to have been booming.
Even before these allegations came to light, there were long-running disputes between Villar and the president of La Liga, Javier Tebas, and the two were on opposing sides in a dispute over TV rights which almost led to a players’ strike and the suspension of league matches in May 2015. Eventually a deal was struck (with government intervention) which meant that La Liga’s TV deal would be negotiated collectively by the clubs, providing a lifeline for the league’s smaller sides.
Before this agreement, Spanish clubs had the right to negotiate their own television deals. This led to a huge disparity in revenue which saw Real Madrid and Barcelona take vast swathes of cash from the broadcasters at the expense of the other 18 teams, who were forced to feed on scraps. As a case in point, when Atlético Madrid won the league in 2014, they received less TV revenue than Cardiff City, who finished bottom of the Premier League.
Now, 50% of the TV revenue is split equally among the 20 clubs, with the remaining funds distributed according to each team’s performance over the previous five years. While this is undoubtedly a fairer system, the dice are still loaded in favour of the top clubs. Champions Real Madrid earned €150m in broadcast revenue last season, whereas bottom side Granada picked up just €62m. This is quite a gap when you consider that the Premier League spreads the TV wealth equally amongst its members.
Each game in La Liga is televised, which means matches are rarely played concurrently so that viewing figures can be maximised. This plays havoc with fixture scheduling, particularly in the summer months when in is too hot to play in the afternoon. Some fixtures end up kicking off as early as 11am and as late as 11pm, and the kick-off times are often not announced until two weeks before the games (and even then are liable to change). At present, the fixture timings are only confirmed up to the second gameweek of the season.
This wouldn’t be tolerated in Britain due to our culture of travelling to away games, which is a habit not shared by our Spanish counterparts. Away attendances in Spain are very poor, but it is unclear whether this is because of the unpredictable kick-off times, or whether away attendances have always been low so changes to the kick-off times were not met with much resistance. Either way, many fans are rightly annoyed that their children sometimes have to stay up until 1am to watch their team on television, or even later if they want to go to the game.
On top of all these issues, the Spanish football authorities make themselves look silly by not paying attention to small details. When Real Madrid won the league in May this year, they were not presented with a trophy, which Cristiano Ronaldo quite rightly described as “a f***ing joke” when asked about it by an incredulous Gareth Bale.
La Liga’s excuse was that they didn’t know whether Real Madrid or Barcelona would be champions, but in the Premier League a replica is on hand at both stadia for such an eventuality, and in Scotland the trophy has even been flown by helicopter to the relevant ground. It is something that is very easily solved, but a failure to do so makes them look decidedly half-arsed. As it is, Real Madrid will receive their trophy on the first home game of the season, three months late and without title-winning players such as Álvaro Morata and James Rodríguez, who have now left the club.
The Spanish league obviously has a lot to be proud of, with high quality football and passionate support at every club, from the Canaries to Catalonia. But there are several things that need to be improved. In many ways it is the greatest league in the world, but alleged corruption, internal disputes, baffling decisions and amateurish governance let it down and make it a laughing stock. Most of these issues are easily fixed, and hopefully the aftermath of the corruption case will present an opportunity for Spanish football to get its house in order once and for all.