New Delhi: On 11 November, as Europe's top five club competitions " England's Premier League, Spain's LaLiga, Germany's Bundesliga, France's Ligue 1, and Italy's Serie A " broke for international fixtures, their mid-season tables showed a remarkable statistic. Only two points separate top five teams of LaLiga (one point separates top four, while top two teams are tied on 25 points), whereas traditional powerhouses Premier League, thanks to the unreal form of Liverpool and Leicester City, show a 17-point gap between fifth-placed Sheffield United and leaders Liverpool.
The win percentages of respective league leaders tell a tale too. A win percentage of 91.6 establishes Jurgen Klopp's men's dominance in England, while Barcelona, despite perched atop the Spanish league, have a modest 66.6 percent to show for. Ligue 1 leaders PSG have won 76 percent of their games, whereas Monchengladbach and Juventus, currently topping Bundesliga and Serie A respectively, have a healthy win percentage of 72.72 and 83.33.
Cold statistics as they are, they give a fair indication of the intensely competitive season in Spain, where there is precious little to choose from among the top five sides. The trend may be a function of the dip in form of Barcelona and Real Madrid too, but the quality of 'lesser' clubs, such as Sevilla and Real Sociedad, is hard to miss. The mid-table standings are equally baffling " one point separates sixth and tenth-placed teams " albeit it is worth mentioning that the grouping in the mid-table is generally the norm across clubs.
While high-level of gameplay is the most obvious reason behind the cut-throat contest in LaLiga, the genesis lies in, what league's Managing Director for India Jose Antonio Cachaza calls, economic fairplay.
"One of the biggest reasons of great competition in LaLiga is the reshaping of the league that has happened over last five years," Cachaza told Firstpost.
LaLiga's financial control regulations have been in place since the 2013-14 season, allowing the league to monitor each club's budgets and set spending caps. This effectively means that clubs have to furnish their budgetary details " funding, expenses, investments " to the league, bringing about a cultural shift in LaLiga.
Another factor that has contributed to the competition is the centralised sale of broadcast rights which began in 2015. The move has ensured a democratic distribution of league's burgeoning broadcast revenue " up from ¬600 million in 2015 to ¬1.865 billion today, said Cachaza.
"LaLiga has managed to bring about the negotiation of broadcast rights. That has had two consequences: It made possible to increase the overall value of our rights, and second, it translated in a more balanced way of distributing that income," he added.
"Real Madrid and Barcelona and other top eight teams are making more money than they did, but the increased revenue is used to balance the competition. In 2013, I was working for Malaga FC, and we were playing Champions League. Our broadcast rights got us ¬40 million then. Today, the lowest-paid team in LaLiga earns ¬40-45 million. Mind you, Malaga, back then, was not the lowest-paid; the lowest paid would get ¬8-9 million."
With the centralised sale of broadcast rights, came the economic control, and it provided the much-needed stimulus to debt-ridden, cash-strapped clubs. It has, inevitably, translated to smaller clubs being able to afford global superstars, which in turn has served to bridge the gap in quality with the top tier.
Real Betis' acquisition of French World Cup winner Nabil Fekir from Lyon this summer for a reported fee of ¬19.75 million must be viewed in that light. To put things in perspective, another 'small' club, Athletic Bilbao, earned ¬17 million five years back, but are now making to ¬71 million from TV rights alone.
"The economic fairplay has enhanced the reach of smaller clubs to the global audience," agrees Cachaza.
"Fans do not care about economics; they are concerned with the jerseys and the results. To have big names is necessary to make competition exciting for the fans. Many times people tell me that the Premier League is more competitive. But in the Premier League, you are talking no more than five names. The international value of West Brom is the same as that of Real Sociedad, no more. So, we are getting there."
For long being known internationally for its biggest trump cards " Real Madrid and Barcelona, and to a great extent Atletico Madrid " LaLiga aspires to produce "at least five household names."
"We are not apologetic of having two absolute powerhouses of football, and then you have clubs like Atletico and Sevilla who are trying to get there. To make clubs such as Real Betis, for example, household names takes time. Premier League has been in Asia for 30 years, and we have been doing so for five years, so we have time to catch up," Cachaza reasons.
'Move over Ronaldo versus Messi'
Without doubt, the biggest football rivalry of the decade, the undying debate and spectacle of the Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi has resulted in LaLiga's international popularity hitting the roof. Ronaldo's move to Juventus in 2018 meant the league could no longer milk the cash cow, but Cachaza " while equating Messi versus Ronaldo with the legendary rivalry between NBA greats Larry Bird, who played for Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Lakers' legend Magic Johnson " believes that it is time for fans to move on.
"So far, historically speaking, LaLiga has been capable of bringing some of the all-time great players. We had the best years of Ronaldo versus Messi. The next generation will come. You take LaLiga and Real Madrid of the 1950s, you have the likes of Alfredo Di StÃ©fano, Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, among others. No other competition can boast of such an illustrious history. Ronaldo gave Real and LaLiga the best years of his career, while Messi gave Barca all his playing career and by the time he finishes, he will be at the level of Maradona and Pele.
"But you cannot get crazy on player versus player rivalries. Do not forget that players come and go," he concluded.