Pete Jenson: Barcelona and Real Madrid may be back on top but La Liga is booming

A DIFFERENT LEAGUE

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The Independent Football

No sooner had the final whistle been blown at Eibar’s 5,350-capacity stadium on Tuesday night than Gloria Gaynor’s voice could be heard booming from the PA system. A 1-0 win over Malaga was a huge step towards safety and a rendition of “I Will Survive” seemed like the perfect way to play the team out.

If Eibar do survive – with their local scrap-metal dealer shirt sponsors, and their annual £14m budget – it will be another minor miracle in a league that keeps on defying the doomsday prognosis that it was heading for two-team boredom – Real Madrid and Barcelona throwing money at each other at the top while tumbleweed blew through the rest of La Liga.

Rayo Vallecano – of similar rag-and-bone resources – took on Real Madrid the following night and, despite losing 2-0 to the club whose £450m annual budget is about £440m more than theirs, they are still as high as ninth in the table.

One day the holy grail of shared television revenue might mean they can finish building their currently three-sided ground and even spend some money in the transfer market, until then the local talent thrives. Top scorer Alberto Bueno, who once had a season on loan with Derby County, will move to Porto at the end of the season and coach Paco Jemez will probably soon be testing himself in the English Championship.

The paupers will not pipe down and, boosted by the long overdue injection of overseas investment, the middle class have remerged, too. Outside the big two, there are three teams separated by four points in the race for the remaining Champions League places. Singapore multimillionaire Peter Lim has pumped money into Valencia; China’s second-richest man Wang Jianlin bought 20 per cent of Atletico Madrid, and Europa League champions Seville are hanging in with them courtesy, again, of Spanish talent in coach Unai Emery and sporting director Monchi.

 

It’s true that the two-horse race at the top, interrupted last year by Atletico, has resumed this season. But Real and Barcelona’s battle will be the one that goes right to the wire, while Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Juventus can already book the victory parade ticker tape in Germany, England and Italy respectively.

Real are four points behind Barcelona but have eight games left to close the gap and Barça must go to Seville on Saturday, and Atletico in their penultimate game. France and Portugal aside, it is the last big European title race still standing.

Spain’s domination of the international game looks to be over, with coach Vicente del Bosque hopelessly torn between building a new team around the Diego Costa-Cesc Fabregas axis and trying to revive the possession game that relied so much on the now retired Xavi and Xabi Alonso. But La Liga thrives.

No one can pretend there is a plan behind its rude health. The Spanish never wanted every David Silva, Jesus Navas and Santi Cazorla from Valencia to Villarreal to pack their bags and head for the Premier League, but the massive exodus of talent and the absence of a £5bn TV windfall to squander on someone else’s best prospects has left most clubs with no alternative but to wave through the next generation of home-grown players and work hard with what they have.

Not everything in the garden is rosy, with Elche banned from signing players in the summer because of outstanding debts and Almeria facing a three-point penalty due to Fifa sanctions but, as seasons reach a climax all over Europe, Spain’s looks the healthiest.

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