An interesting read by Calvin Critchley (click on Premier League vs La Liga arrow above headline), regarding why he is put off watching La Liga. However, I feel it is only fair if the case is made for the other side of the argument.
Without wishing to open a can of worms, the quality of not only the football, but also competition, is undoubtedly better in La Liga. It’s plain to see that if Real Madrid and Barcelona were in the Premier League, they would be first and second – I don’t believe too many would doubt this. And not only that, but in the case of Barcelona, they are doing it with style. Academy players playing with a mentalilty refined by the club through their teenage years, with a team identity as clear as any the footballing world has seen. And my word, is it beautiful to watch. But how about the quality below? Are Valencia any worse than Arsenal? Are Atletico any worse than Liverpool? Are Sevilla any worse than Tottenham?
Many people argue that the Premier League is more wide open, and any one of four or more teams can win it – but is that strictly true? La Liga is seen as a ‘duopoly’ by those who are too lazy to research it, and this is valid. Barcelona and Real Madrid have indeed shared the title between themselves since season 2004/05. But how many winners have there been of the Premier League in that same time frame? Sadly, there have also been only two, with Chelsea and Manchester United passing the trophy among themselves. Strangely, there have been no comments comparing the Premier League to the Scottish League, a slur often thrown at La Liga for this very reason. Even taking the time frame back longer suggests that La Liga is a more open competition, with only three teams winning the Premier League since the turn of the century, whereas four clubs have triumphed in Spain’s top division since the millenium. Even since the start of the Premier League, only four clubs have taken Sky’s trophy, whereas five clubs have triumphed in Spain over that period. It seems that only Manchester City, with their artificial short-term success, could break this group.
Even in European competition, the story continues. Since the Premier League began, Spanish clubs have won the Champions League 6 times (from two clubs), whereas English clubs have only managed three (from two clubs). Spanish clubs have won four Europa League or UEFA Cup titles (from three clubs), whereas England only has Liverpool’s 2001 triumph to show.
So if this shows that Spanish football is more competitive from a wider selection of clubs, then what other reasons are there to not tune in? While the diving and cheating is not pretty to watch, the sorry state of affairs that the game we love finds itself in these days leads us to one very sad question – Cheating. Why not?
A few years ago, UEFA had a wonderful opportunity to make a real stand against those who attempt to dive and cheat, when they handed Arsenal’s Eduardo a ban from European competition for using simulation – no, let’s call it what it is, it’s cheating – to win a penalty against Celtic. A precendent could have been set that no longer were the game’s governing bodies prepared to accept the cheating and manipulation used by the game’s leading players to gain an edge. And they bottled it. At the first sign of resistance, they backed down, removed the ban, and we have not heard a word on the matter since. Retrospective punishments seem like such a simple solution, after all, if the money in football dictates that there will be 30 cameras at every stadium, then why not use these for the greater good of the game? A problem such as diving could be eradicated in such a short timeframe and with minimal effort. The dubious goals panel can’t have much to do these days, what with a multitude of cameras, Jamie Redknapp and even Hawkeye telling everybody who got that decisive touch, so let them decide who is cheating and who isn’t. A five game ban for those caught cheating, and a two game ban for those which evidence suggests may have been cheating would soon sort the problem out. If a player is too scared to go down, he won’t. Fining a miilionaire wont help – if they cheat, let’s stop them playing. Don’t punish their own wallets, let them know they have embarrassed and hurt their reputation, their club, their manager and their fans. If they lose their next game against their title rivals, let that player live with that guilt and regret that he couldn’t help because of his self-imposed suspension.
The same goes for players who surround the referees. A directive has been sent to all Scottish football clubs before the start of the new season, advising them that any player who questions a referees decision will be booked. Very good. But some questions, first of all, why? There is already a rule in place for this. It’s called dissent, and it has been around as long as I have been playing the game. In fact, my father’s disciplinary record suggests it’s been around even longer. So they are now sending memos to teams to let them know that they’ve decided to start enforcing the rules all of a sudden? However, if they feel it necessary to send this memo, why limit it to just Scotland? Again, the solution seems so simple. Nobody is to speak to the referee, apart from the captain of each team. If anybody else approaches the referee, questions him, swears at him or mutters a slur under their breath, then they are booked. It’s already a rule, just enforce it. And while we’re at it, let’s stop all this overly familiar pally nonsense between referees and players. Howard Webb et al should be addressed as ‘Sir’, and Rio Ferdinad would cease to be ‘Ferdy’ and would become ‘Red Number Five’. Maybe then the RESPECT campaign would see some results.
So, I ask again, why not? Let’s take a trip back in time to the Champions League semi-final second leg from season 2009/10, Barcelona against Inter Milan. The infamous ‘Peek-a-boo’ incident from Busquets. Why not? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons here. If Busquets goes down clutching his face, then either: a) His opponent will be sent off, he will have a greater chance to reach a Champions League final and possibly make history as being the first team to retain the title in it’s new format, he will recieve enormous financial bonuses and receive the adulation of millions as a member of one of the greatest teams of all time. Or: b) He gets booked and has a chance to play in the final anyway. Honestly, which would you do? Like Suarez in the World Cup, like Sergio in that game or like Henry against Ireland, I’d be taking the options which gives me an edge. Because if you’re doing something you won’t be punished for, is it even a crime anyway?
We can all agree that FIFA and UEFA need to climb down from their high horses, step out of the bathtubs full of Swiss Francs and take their heads out of the sand to make some drastically needed reforms to our game. And I hope two of Mr. Critchley’s hates of the game are stamped out soon. But until they are, I would urge him to look past them as we all have to do, and admire La Liga for everything else it has to offer. There are too many amazing teams in that league, too much amazing football and too many amazing players to ignore it because FIFA are too lazy to stamp them out.
FIFA has already ruined so much in our game. Please don’t let it ruin the best league in the world for you.
By Paul Piggott – @PaulPiggottBCN