Villaflor: La Liga: a title race of 2 or 3?

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Thursday, August 21, 2014


THE new La Liga season raises the same question that’s been asked in the years prior: who between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona will lift the title?

Since the turn of the new millennium, Los Blancos and the Blaugrana have dominated the league, splitting 11 of the 15 championships between them. Real Madrid has won five times, while FC Barcelona has six.

Only three other teams have lifted the title in the last 15 seasons: Deportivo la Coruna (1999-2000), Valencia (2001-02 and 2003-04), and most recently Atletico Madrid (2013-14). It is therefore no surprise that in the rare times a team not named Real Madrid or Barcelona emerges on top, talk quickly reverts to the La Liga as a league of two, as though the wins of Deportivo, Valencia and Atletico were mere anomalies, glitches in the Spanish system.

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This time, however, would it be fair to ask what chances manager Diego Simone’s Atletico Madrid has of repeating its giant-slaying championship feat?

At first glance, it seems that Atletico had thrown its chance of winning the title by unloading several key players, its top-scorer Diego Costa for $53 million, in particular. But upon closer inspection, transfer proceeds have made Atletico cash rich, allowing them to acquire fresh players.

So far, Atletico has spent $134 million on 10 new players, which includes solid names such as Croatian forward Mario Mandžuki from Bayern Munich and French midfielder Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad.

Atletico’s spending looks paltry compared to Barcelona’s $203-million spree, most of which went to Luis Suarez ($116 million). Also, Real Madrid might have spent a spare $160 million, but this was only for three players: Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez ($106), German midfielder Toni Kroos and Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Spending sprees don’t usually translate to success and can drown clubs in debt, but for Real Madrid and Barcelona, expensive wheeling and dealing is the norm to stay on top. Atletico is a greenhorn in big money transfers, and if it thinks it can buy success with money, then the plight of momentarily successful Spanish clubs that believed it could better serve as a warning.

Both Real Madrid and Barcelona are hell bent on taking back what they think is rightfully theirs. So Atletico Madrid ought to know, its La Liga title defense just got more interesting, even if some observers don’t even bother to include the Los Rojiblancos in the title race equation.

(nsvillaflor@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 22, 2014.

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