La Liga has long been rubbished as just a two-team league. Where’s the excitement in watching a league where the end is limited to only two outcomes? The rest of the teams, while holding some significance to those who are regular viewers of Spanish football, are seen as nothing more than making up the numbers. In short, La Liga is a glorified Scottish League. Well, not anymore.
The Premier League, on the other hand, is paraded around as this great competition where anything can happen and excitement is stretched out until the last day of the season. That’s not wholly incorrect, but excitement between who? The teams chasing the league title—which always, always amounts to just two remaining teams. And if the relegation battle, which also stretches to the last day of the season, is brought up to solidify the Premier League’s claim as a better league, who exactly finds excitement in the thought of their club being relegated? Probably those damn neutrals.
But over the summer, we’ve seen the Premier League take a closer step towards foreign leagues who are dismissed as being nothing more than a one-team show. Chelsea and Manchester City have once again blown everyone out of the water in the transfer market, while at the same time, ensuring that they are the two remaining forces come the most hyped day of the Premier League calendar. And even though Manchester City have not done any business this so far summer, lets not disguise the fact that they can outmanoeuvre almost any other club with their financial backing.
Manchester United, as always, will have something to say about it. And despite losing out to Manchester City on the final day, they displayed their ability to challenge (or fend them off) until the very end. Although, that also might have something to do with everyone else being useless.
United have spent smartly and impressively this summer, picking up the sensational Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund and the promising Nick Powell from Crewe Alexandre, who is likely to draw many comparisons to Wayne Rooney. But is it enough? The team showed their frailty throughout last season, and while big spending doesn’t always guarantee trophies, there’s got to be some level of concern that their lack of ability to equal Chelsea or City’s spending could see them left behind in the future.
Yes, it’s difficult to imagine United being left behind by anyone. But it was almost beyond any logical thought that we’d see AC Milan surrender two of their best and most high-profile players to the French league. Money is playing a big role in the shaping of all the major European leagues—all to varying degree—and we should not be so dismissive of another power overhauling Manchester United over the long-term.
But will that equate to a less attractive league in the future? From a player’s point of view, many would like to be at the head of the table with whomever occupies those positions—especially if their talent warrants a place in those squads. Fortunately, however, clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal can continue to be a draw for players for various reasons. For example, Falcao knew there was little chance of a league title at Atletico Madrid, yet Real Madrid’s city-rivals still managed to pull off one of the signings of last summer—an acquisition that Los Blancos would have been proud to make. And even though Falcao captured the Europa League title in his first season, immediate success will not always be the only motivator for players.
From a fan’s perspective, it’s hard to see the Premier League losing a significant amount of interest, even if Man City and Chelsea do establish themselves as the dominant two. We’ve seen cycles in the past where only two clubs would battle for the title, and audiences are hardly bored of United’s regular appearances in last-day title scraps.
The worry, though, is that the financial power of certain clubs could create an ever-increasing gap between themselves and the other teams. Is it right to view the duopoly in Spain as something that will never happen in England? The financial breakdown may be different, but the fact is, Barcelona and Real Madrid are so comfortably ahead of everyone that clubs simply have no hope of gaining ground.
Financial Fair Play is something that could prevent a similar long-term duopoly in English football—although I’m not holding much hope. But Chelsea and Manchester City’s spending have shown that there is a possibility to open a door into a two-team and much less attractive Premier League.