The Spanish duopoly: No end in sight

June 3rd, 2011

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been living in Spain since August of last year. Through my residence here, I have developed a much stronger knowledge about the Spanish game in general, even though I’m not an avid fan of any one particular team. If ever you decide come to Spain, however, whether it’s to live or to holiday, and you find yourself chatting to a local about football, be prepared to answer the age-old question: Real or Barça?

I remember that not too long ago, for me, La Liga was something very exotic. Never having had Sky or any type of cable television as a kid, I didn’t have the privilege of being able to watch Spain’s finest. While my friends would talk about the Madrid of Zidane, Ronaldo, Raúl and Roberto Carlos I could only ever listen on, wishing that my Dad would just give in to me and my brother’s pleas and cough up the extra £30 a month so that we could watch a game once in a while. It wasn’t to be, and so the only chance I had to watch these brilliant players was in the big Champions League games on ITV.

This year, however, if I had really wanted to, I could have watched close to every Real Madrid and Barcelona match. The individual TV deals that the two clubs have, the ones that make sure that they receive ridiculously more money than all the other teams in the league, make sure that the games are staggered, i.e. if Madrid play at 7pm, Barça play at 9 and vice versa. I did watch quite a few games at the start of this year abroad as well, but my enthusiasm soon began to wane. The reason? It was all too…predictable. There was never any doubt about who would win. An upset was never really on the cards. I soon stopped going to bars to watch the games. I would dip in and out as the season went on, watch a Barça game here, a Real game there, but as the season went on – and the points gap between second place and third grew even larger – I was never fully tempted back in.

A lack of one-club loyalty:

The current football climate in Spain seems to be this: Everyone is free to support whoever they want, but they must also have a favourite between the big two. I don’t want to generalise for the whole country here. I’m sure there are pockets of Spain – Bilbao is one example that springs to mind – where supporters strongly identify with their (local) team and wouldn’t dream of following another, but the rest seem to be pretty content with the assumption that only Real and Barça have the money, resources and players to win the League and therefore you must support at least one of the two.

In the case of my city, Alicante, I suppose I can slightly understand why. Hércules, the city’s principal team, were absolutely terrible this season and rightly relegated. To be honest, they should never have been promoted in the first place due to their blatant use of bribery but due to some stupid loophole nobody could do anything about it.

At first I was delighted that my Erasmus destination had a team in La Liga. ‘Think of all the great football I’ll get to watch’ I told myself, and when Hércules, somehow, beat Barça 2-0 at the Camp Nou in the second game of the season it felt like this would be a very very interesting year to be in Alicante football-wise. It wasn’t. They were rubbish. The squad fell apart, Drenthe went AWOL after speeding through town in the middle of the night at 180km/h, the players weren’t paid and now I’m glad I never managed to get to a game. I suppose I can understand that people would rather watch Cristiano Ronaldo than Rufete or Messi over Olivier Thomert, but I just can’t imagine it happening in England.

Once you pick a team in England, that’s your team for life. It’s very rare that people genuinely change, and if you do you’re likely to be called a ‘gloryhunter’. Sure, the majority of people go for Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, but if you pick the wrong team you’re destined for a lifetime of disappointment and heartache. Local ties seem much more important (even though it can be said that a large percentage of Man Utd’s fans seem to live in the London area).

Teams like Hércules need the support of the locals if they are ever going to stand a chance because, frankly, who else is going to support them?

The Duopoly – next season:

Next season in Spain will be very much ‘more of the same’, but I can actually see the gap between the top two and third place growing – especially if Sergio Agüero and Giuseppe Rossi leave Atlético and Villarreal respectively.

Agüero is one of my favourite players and he has been ever since he broke through as a teenager in Argentina. I remember watching El Kun play for Independiente all those years ago and I certainly remember this goal. He will definitely be leaving Atlético this summer as he has openly stated so publicly and most people, even diehard Atleti fans, can sympathise. He’s a top player and wants to win trophies, but will not do so at the Vicente Calderón. He has recently stated that while he likes the English League, he would prefer to stay in Spain. So that leaves us with 2 options. Real seem his most likely destination at this moment in time.

Then we have Rossi, a player who never really made the grade at Old Trafford, he has shone since arriving at El Madrigal. Rumours say he will move to Barcelona during this transfer window. Villarreal finished fourth this year, 34 points behind Barcelona. Atleti, in fifth, were 38 points adrift. And that was with their two star players. One can only imagine next season…

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