[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he stranglehold that Real Madrid and Barcelona have over Spanish football is unerring, unequivocal and virtually impossible to overhaul.
However, upon signing a new contract with Atlético Madrid to keep him with the Estadio Vicente Calderon outfit until 2020, consistently matching world football’s two biggest clubs is the unenviable task that faces Diego Simeone in forthcoming years.
There is no doubting that the retired midfielder has innovative and motivating methods. Atleti’s unprecedented La Liga title success last term shows his managerial quality, while they were within a whisker of complementing their remarkable domestic feat with European glory.
Los Colchoneros were worthy Spanish champions last term and the fact that Simeone’s charges managed to usurp the Clasico superpowers is quite remarkable.
Upon penning his new deal in the capital, the Argentine coach stated that his task was to break up the long-standing duopoly that Barcelona and Real Madrid have nationally, but despite Simeone’s resolute character, don’t expect his ambitions to become reality any time soon.
The issue is not a lack of quality, backing or resolve at Atlético; it is simply that the playing field is skewed in the Clasico sides’ favour both on and off the pitch.
With the television money received by the country’s two biggest clubs considerably more than the other 18 La Liga sides, the current situation is simply not fair.
Although games involving one of the Clasico sides will generate significantly more interest from viewers than fixtures without them, an uneven financial playing field dictates that the gulf between the top two teams and the rest will be virtually omnipresent.
This income complements the unparalleled revenue generated by Barca and Los Blancos through countless other methods and as such Atlético simply will not be able to compete consistently in their current format.
Hence, the inevitable expenditure on new players outlaid by the big two does not come close to equating to Atleti’s available budget.
What if, after Diego Costa was sold to Chelsea, Atlético had the ability to splurge the monumental figure needed to land Luis Suárez rather than Mario Mandžukić?
When Malaga were in financial strife, what if the Vicente Calderon outfit could have offered the same financial incentives as their cross-city rivals to land someone like Isco?
Despite the financial disparity between the Clasico sides and the rest, yesterday’s award of the Copa del Rey final to Barcelona’s Camp Nou shows the big two’s influence over the powers that be, and borders on farce.
With Luis Enrique’s men set to contest the cup competition final against Athletic Bilbao, the establishment’s nightmare was seemingly set to take place.
It made sense for the game to take place on neutral ground, with the Santiago Bernabeu an ideal location.
But, with consistent pushes for increased regional autonomy in Spain, the prospect of Catalan and Basque flags engulfing the capital was too much for Florentino Pérez and Madrid to bear, who refused to allow the fixture to be played at their ground.
Despite other venues such as Valencia’s Mestalla and Sevilla’s Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán being considered, Camp Nou was selected to ensure a higher attendance, but again gives Barcelona an unfair advantage.
San Mames was available also; the rational for choosing Barcelona’s home over Bilbao’s doesn’t appear worthy.
In conclusion, La Liga must be considered as two separate divisions.
In the top tier, Madrid and Barcelona will continue their eternal rivalry and operate on a plane that other sides cannot contest.
Below that, Atlético’s resurgence, Valencia’s new-found (non-comparative) wealth, Sevilla’s European exploits in the Europa League and the exhilarating play of Villarreal form something of a mini-league in its own right.
Atlético’s title triumph last season was a David vs Goliath style victory; a fairy-tale of monumental proportions. The problem is that fairy-tales are a fleeting occurrence, with normal service and the domination of the Clasico sides set to resume for the foreseeable future.
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