By Alison ChinFollow @@AlisonChin9
Real may be seventh in the league at the moment, but there is no doubt the title fight will yet again be between them and the Catalans come the end of the current season.
Vincente Del Bosque's Spain outfit currently sits atop of the FIFA rankings after their history-making hat-trick of titles at Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. However, close examination of the La Roja first team reveals a rather intriguing feature.
With the exception of David Silva, the rest of the starting 11 ply their trade for the top two clubs in the domestic league, a curious characteristic that is a rarity in other national teams. While it appears to make perfect sense for the best teams to be home to elite players within the division, one need only look toward the Premier League and Serie A to realize that a good spread of talent across clubs is possible.
The concentration of quality within the ranks of Real Madrid and Barcelona has enabled the duo to dominate local competition for the past decade. Although one can argue that Los Blancos and Barcelona have always been traditionally successful clubs, the gap between the two and the rest of La Liga's participants appears to grow with each passing season.
For fans of the duo, a two-horse race for the domestic title provides sufficient entertainment, especially with the footballing genius on show and the vastly different styles of play. Attempting to stretch their domination both locally and in the Champions League has seen the two clubs sign exciting new players each season, while continuing to battle for supremacy between themselves in highly anticipated El Clasicos.
However, the sheer star power and spending capability afforded to Jose Mourinho's and Tito Vilanova's teams has left the remaining 18 clubs to battle for scraps in terms of sponsorship, global and domestic television rights, on top of quality playing staff. The relative lack of attention given to the 2012 Europa League final between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao is a clear indication of the differing interest levels. Had the match involved Barcelona or Los Blancos, it would surely have been given more coverage and achieved a surge in viewership.
It is the aim of every modern football club to build a global brand, as owners look to transform the establishment into more than just an athletic team. In order to reach out to fans beyond a club's country of origin, the screening of matches to international audiences becomes paramount.
Unlike the Premier League, La Liga television rights are not discussed as part of a collective deal encompassing all teams. Instead, clubs are left to negotiate with media companies individually. Without star names like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to pull out of their back pockets, it's easy to see why the smaller Spanish clubs are offered pittance in compensation and unpopular timeslots as compared to the more illustrious two.
Real and Barcelona earn approximately 120-160 million Euros respectively from each season's television rights, while the others make do with an average of 42 million Euros. Although the 42 million Euro sum may seem large, the other teams continue to be denied the opportunity to achieve anything remotely close to equivalence with the top two.
Despite the attempted boycott by 13 La Liga clubs prior to the start of this campaign, Liga Nacional de Futbol Profesional (LFP) president Jose Luis Astiazaran convinced team officials that a delay would not help their cause. As the leader of an association meant to ensure fair administration within Spanish football leagues, Astiazaran has been accused more than once of favouring certain sides in the allocation of kick-off timings.
Some would be quick to blame the smaller clubs for not putting up more of a fight. However, it is a scenario that presidents of less popular clubs can only dream of at present. Missing out on the revenue from television rights prevents these teams from bolstering their transfer coffers, severely limiting their chances of attracting prospective players without first selling away a starter.
More often than not, if these clubs boast a talent, then it's simply a matter of time before he ends up calling either the Santiago Bernabeu or Camp Nou home. One can hardly blame these players, as they would naturally seek pastures that can offer them the best possible chance to win silverware. However, their moves simply widen the gap in quality between the two elite clubs and the rest of the league.
The likes of Silva and Michu chose to depart La Liga all together, with their sales providing their former sides a much needed financial boost, while also gifting them a European platform to shine on after living in the shadows of Barcelona and Real for the most part of their careers.
Without squad strengthening, it remains an uphill task for any club to keep up with Los Blancos and Barcelona on the field. The lack of talent also intensifies the challenge these teams face in European competition. Although La Liga has four Champions League qualification places up for grabs, the other two clubs are more often than not knocked out during the group stages, losing yet another lucrative source of television revenue.
The club that has perhaps come closest to challenging the existing domination is Valencia, though their story is a clear example of the volatility faced by other La Liga sides.
Fans of Los Che will recall fondly their period of domination in the early 2000s, which includes a Champions League title and back-to-back domestic championships. However, after the 2004/05 campaign, the team spent the next few seasons yo-yoing up and down the league table, while power struggles within the board room flooded the club with much uncertainty.
By the time, Unai Emery was appointed manager in the summer of 2008, Valencia had accumulated a debt of more than 400 million Euros. Despite securing a loan to cover the wages of their players, and a marked improvement in results, the club's precarious financial situation meant they had to sell stars like David Villa, Silva and Juan Mata to balance the books.
Being in debt is not a foreign concept to Barcelona or Real, but the duo are able to continue excessive spending in the transfer market, which certainly speaks volumes about their profit margin in comparison to closest contender Valencia.
In hopes of providing stronger competition, Los Che are doing their best to build a stronger brand worldwide, as evidenced by their recent visit to Jakarta. However, organizers did reveal it was because they commanded a much lower appearance fee than Barcelona, Los Blancos and Serie A side Inter Milan that Valencia were selected. In spite of this, their trip to Southeast Asia should represent the first step in a long journey that will hopefully bear financial fruit for the club.
Spanish pride has been well-represented in the last four of every edition of the Europa League thus far, with Atletico participating in three separate finals, an indication that such La Liga clubs could find themselves either knocking on the door of the Champions League or give better accounts of themselves within the competition if afforded support both financially and on the field.
It is ironic that while the reputations of these sides are growing internationally, the biggest hurdles facing them are from within. The clubs must attempt to convince the LFP to adopt a system of collectiveness for television rights and income distribution, with the Premier League a particularly good model to learn from.
However, it remains to be seen if the organization will be able to convince their favourite sons to give up a larger share of the pie for the benefit of others. Perhaps with Barcelona president Sandro Rosell's recent backing of a re-examination of the television revenue distribution arrangement, change might just be on the horizon.
On a whole, La Liga has no shortage of talent, infrastructure or supporters, and it is a clearly a league deserving of the recognition it receives as one of Europe's leading tournaments. Nonetheless, the competition has the potential to grow from strength to strength if other clubs are encouraged to grow instead of stifled, if its participants are supported rather than asked to be satisfied with subsidiary roles behind the leading two.