Spanish La Liga is the most prestigious competition in Europe beside English Premier League today. It is also as grand as EPL but they are more famous internationally for the duopoly Real Madrid and Barcelona classic rivalry, known as El Classico. It is the most anticipated match in every season in the world, more than any other domestic league matches in any other leagues, not even German Der Klassiker, French Le Classique or Manchester derby, London derby or Manchester United – Liverpool clash. It is mainly due to the fact that El Barca and Real Madrid are the two powerhouses with plenty of global stars playing for either side in each and every decade since 1960s. They are also two of the richest club in the world, until Barcelona stumbled in a huge debt in the past few years.
The competition was founded in 1928 as ten teams agreed to join for the centralised national league. Those ten teams were mainly determined from the results of Copa del Rey in the previous years. They were Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Real Union, Real Sociedad, Getxo, Atletico Madrid, Racing Santander, Espanyol and CU Europa. The first three clubs remain the only ones which have never been relegated until today.
La Liga Details
Since its beginning in 1928/29 season, there have been several expansion regarding its participants. The ten-team league went on till 1934. Next, between 1934 and 1941, it was added to 12 teams, then 14 teams (1941-1950), 16 teams (1950-1971), 18 teams (1971-1987), and 20 teams since 1987, plus two seasons trial for 22 teams in 1995/96 and 1996/97. La Liga, which has always been ranked high in the top three of UEFA annual coefficients, uses the regular double round robin format. However, this league has its own tie-breaker system for deciding the champions between the two teams or more collecting the same points. It is the use of head-to-head goal difference without away goal rule for two teams, and goal difference plus head-to-head points for the rivalry of more than two clubs. No wonder that the goal scoring has often been high in La Liga because such is the key for winning the titles, not to mention the frequent dramatic title races between Madrid-Barcelona.
Despite being well-known for the duopoly of the Castillan and Catalan sides, La Liga has never turned dull, unlike Portuguese Premiera Liga or Dutch Eredivisie. The El Classico rivalry has often been disturbed by Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Valencia or Real Sociedad along the way. Real Madrid is still the record holder by winning the league 34 times, entailed by Barcelona with 26 times. Lionel Messi is obviously the current all time top scorer and top assist provider followed by his archrival, Cristiano Ronaldo, but the Portuguese forward is the fastest one to reach the goals milestones in the history of Spanish top flight.
As the home of two richest clubs in the world, La Liga has always been able to lure world class players from time to time, mainly to play for either Madrid or Barcelona, especially since 1950s when the regulation for foreign players limit was modified and enabled them to sign the overseas stars. In 1950s and 1960s, Madrid had Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo di Stefano and Raymond Kopa in the squad while Barcelona had Laszlo Kubala. In 1970s, the German marquee signings Paul Breitner, Gunther Netzer and Uli Stielke played for Los Blancos while the Dutch duo Johan Cryuff, Johan Nesskens were in Blaugrana squad. In 1980s, it was the glorious era of Hugo Sanchez and Jorge Valdano in Bernabeu against Diego Maradona, Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes in Camp Nou. In 1990s, both sides managed to sign for various global stars. Ivan Zamorano, Roberto Carlos, Davor Suker, Pedrag Mijatovic, Clarence Seedorf and Christian Panucci were up against Hristo Stoickov, Romario, Rivaldo, Patrick Kluivert and Laurent Blanc.
Some stars even had a rare controversial opportunity to play for both such as Bernd Schuster, Michael Laudrup, Luis Enrique, Ronaldo Luiz and Luis Figo. In 2000s, prior to CR7 arrival, Madrid was famous for their Los Galacticos squad with Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Fabio Cannavaro and Ruud Van Nilsterooy whereas Barcelona included Ronaldinho, Deco, Samuel Eto’o and Rafael Marquez in the squad. Finally, the 2010s marked the fierce rivalry of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric against Barcelona’s academy products led by Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. In addition, it impacted to the stern clash in managerial level, especially between Jose Mourinho of Madrid and Pep Guardiola of Barcelona. With such big names in the competition, no wonder that La Liga has produced the most FIFA World Best Players winners and attracted approximately 2 billion viewers globally per season.
Such duopoly apparently has raised concern among the other clubs and the league administrator. Therefore, La Liga clubs, except Madrid-Barcelona, eventually approved the lucrative deal of € 2.7 billion with CVC Capital Partners to save the competition from the threat of bankruptcy due to CR7’s and Messi’s departure, the ongoing pandemic and the chance to create more competitive plus equal profit share among all teams in the top tiers. However, the scheme is under criticism since the price they have to pay is too big, the 10 % league rights to the American private equity firm.
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Historic Moments in La Liga
The historic moments in La Liga has taken place in various decades, from the title race to Madrid-Barcelona domination which has intensified after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).
The first one was the domination of Athletic Bilbao before the Civil War. The Basque side managed to win the league four times from 1930 to 1936. In the post Civil War era, Madrid and Barcelona were taking turns in clinching the silverware in 1950s. The next iconic moment came in 1973/74 when Johan Cruyff ended Blaugrana's title drought from 1960 the triumphant era of Los Blancos in both domestic and the continent.
The early 1980s saw the rise of two Basque sides, Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao meddling the two classic giants. They both won the title twice between 1980 and 1984. Then, in 1985, the British connection in the Catalan side plus Bernd Schuster helped them win their tenth La Liga. The next ten years would be the golden era of Real Madrid with five consecutive victories (1986-1990) followed by their archrival’s glory four seasons in a row (1991-1994). Atletico Madrid rose to cancel out those two giants' glory in 1996.
The next memorable moments were the emergence of new champions in the millennium, Deportivo La Coruna in 2000 plus Valencia in 2002 and 2004 before Madrid-Barca retook the silverware until Atletico Madrid meddled twice in 2014 and 2021. The last iconic moment was the thrilling title race till the end in 2007 and 2016 between the Castillans and Catalans.