Spain's dominance coming to an end?
“La Furia Roja” has been dominating the global stage for a bit more than 5 years now, winning two European championships in 2008 and 2012, one World Cup in 2010 in 2010, and one second-fiddle Mediterranean games in 2009. This emphatic dominance has been accompanied with a style of play that impressed pundits all over the world; A football approach that was instated by the much revered Luis Aragonis, and further developed by the successful Vicente Del Bosque. What makes this supremacy more extensive is that “La Rojita” also managed to impress at all age levels, winning two European under-21 championships in 2011 and 2013, two European under-19 championships in 2011 and 2012, in addition to reaching the semi final of the 2013 version and unfortunately bowing out of the 2013 under-20 World cup from the quarter finals. And with a satisfactory run to the finals of the Confederations cup in Brazil this summer, the Spanish progression is showing no signs of slowing down. Or is it?
Much has been said of the Spanish superiority. Articles were written, and studies were conducted to find a suitable label for this divinely played football and to analyze the basis of this success. While no one can highlight what guaranteed the Spanish revolution, many factors can be attributed to this success. Dependence on young talents, prioritizing technical development, using “total football” as a platform and having a competitive League that boasts two powerhouses in Barcelona and Real Madrid (I know many will confidently oppose this last point, but bare with me, we’ll get to that) have without doubt helped elevate Spanish football to exceptional heights. Spain has simply invested in a triumphant strategy and deserves to reap the rewards. As a result of creating a unique identity, Spain finally drained the “incompetent” tag and embarked on a journey that doesn’t seem ready to hobble into retirement any time soon. Or does it?
The past nine La Liga’s were won by only two sides; Barcelona (6 titles) and Real Madrid (3 titles). No other team was able to break this duopoly. No one came even close to playing a “dark horse” role that might have added a special flavor to a league that is followed by millions of fans all over the world. This two-horse race will surely affect Spanish football in general and the national team specifically. But this hasn’t always been the case. In the nine seasons that preceded the above mentioned period, La Liga was as aggressive as it gets. Five teams managed to snap up nine titles, which is a signal of healthy competition. This rivalry was one of the things that laid the foundation for the National team’s future success. The competitiveness that pigmented La Liga is what attracted world class players to come to Spain, and young emerging talents to aspire to one day ply their trade in La Liga. Ronaldo, Christian Vieri, Roy Makaay, Predrag Mijatovic, Bebeto, Davor Suker, Rivaldo, Pauleta, Claudio Lopez, Patrick Kluivert, Diego Forlan, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Nihat and Darko Kovacevic, were only some of the foreign players that lighted up Spanish football. With every passing season, the quality of players improved in La liga, transforming it to an entertaining championship full of surprises and thrilling performances. Has this been the case lately?
Coming at the end of a season in which German clubs schooled Barcelona and Real Madrid in Europe's biggest competition, Brazil's crushing victory over Spain in the Confederations cup increased the impression that football has been freed from the tika-taka dictatorship. For sure many might argue that factors such as fatigue, conditions and off-days for normally reliable players affected the outcome, but this defeat was so comprehensive that expressing doubts about their system and personnel is no longer enough to identify the reasons behind this downfall.
While a competitive league does not in any way guarantee a dominant National team, it surely does present an apparatus for laying successful foundations. And when a certain league stops attracting quality players then something wrong must have happened, and on the long run the class of this league will start to weaken. While Real Madrid and Barcelona will always be able to attract superstars, will the other teams be capable of keeping up? If a good player is not desired by these two big guns, he will most probably be unaffordable for the rest of the Spanish teams. The purchasing power of other La Liga teams is already small and still fading away as time goes by. Between La Liga, EPL and the Bundesliga the number of departures is the highest in Spain. Players are getting fed up with the diminishing competitiveness of their teams, and starting to look for pastures new. Juan Mata, David Silva, David De Gea, Michu, Radamel Falcao, Sergio Aguëro, Javi Martinez, Santi Cazorla, Joaquin Sanchez, Fernando Llorente, Gonzalo Higuain, Raúl Albiol, José Callejon, Jesús Navas, Álvaro Negredo, Iago Aspas, Marc Muniesa, Andrés Palop, Roberto Soldado, Thiago Alcantara, Bojan Krkic, Gerard Deulofeu and formerly Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Mikel Arteta - in addition to the large amount of juveniles such as Suso, Denis Suarez, Fabregas, Bellerin, Miquel - represent a small fraction of the quality that abandoned the "lure" of La Liga.
It is becoming clear that Spain is facing some kind of a "brain drain". In the last few years, many young, talented and ambitious players decided to leave Spain and move abroad to fulfill their potential, achieve financial gain and personal glory. Not only do Real Madrid and Barcelona outmuscle their Spanish counterparts in spending and attracting foreign players, they also steal local talents such as Jordi Alba, Isco, David Villa, Seydou Keita, Sergio Canales, Raul Albiol, Dani Alves, Illaramendi and Adriano. It's true that these two major forces have always possessed larger budgets, stadiums and trophy cabinets, but never have they faced such little competition, never have they reached 100 points in the league, never have they scored this outrageous number of goals in a single season, never has a draw tasted like a defeat and never had the other 16 teams settle for battling for the third spot starting week 4 or 5. If this supremacy continues for several years, add to it the so called "brain drain" and the continuing unfair distribution of TV rights we will have a recipe for failure. A recipe that will most certainly affect Spanish football in general and consequently the National team, which in turn will pose the question of: Is it the end of Spanish dominance?
Imagine what would've happened if Pellegrini stayed with Malaga, retained Isco and co. and bought Jovetic, If Valencia still had Villa, Silva, Mata, Soldado, and Alba, If Sevilla still had Alves, Keita, Navas and Negredo, If Atletico Madrid still had Torres, Aguero, Forlan, Falcao and Diego. Its true players come and go, and teams have to always manage, adapt and continue building, but if things continue in the same pace a lot of questions will be posed. Will Real Madrid and Barcelona's winning every league game by four or five goals benefit La Liga? Will the quality of these two sides eventually decline and affect their performances in Europe? Are Barcelona and Madrid willing to take a step back in order for the League to take a step forward? Will La Liga will be the new Scottish football league? Will the effort and time that were invested throughout several years go in vein? Will all this affect the Spanish national Team?
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