A two-team league 2

So, if this bipartisan situation featuring some of the finest footballers in the world has been around for ages, what’s everyone bitching about? 

        Well, it just may be that the gap is getting bigger and bigger.  The strong become stronger, and the weak, weaker.  Before the games were close, but now blowouts are routine, and you end up watching games just to see how many goals they will score.  IfBarcelonawins by a convincing 2-0, you almost feel as if you’ve been gypped.   In the last two seasons, both teams have battled it out for first while the third place finisher cam in some 25 points behind.  It’s not even remotely close.  The difference is abysmal…and seems to be expanding.  

         I see that there are two major flaws that are leading to this, but I’ll tell you about them later.

         1)            Buying power.  The too big clubs have so much more money and financial means to operate with that the other 18 clubs simply cannot compete.  Take Kaká’s signing three years ago, for instance.  The man cost 70 million euros (that’s around $100 million) and he often doesn’t even start.  Just the other day I was an official candidate to win the Euro-millions lottery and had I won I would have taken home that much money.  Set for life.  What could I have done with it as an owner of a first division soccer club inSpain?  Buy one international star.  You can’t the say the same of professional sports in theU.S.  Big cities often have perennial failures.  Just look at the Knicks, Rangers and Mets.  And, hey, they’re my teams so I know.  And what about theChicagoCubs? Case in point. 

            2)           Structural set-up.  The league is designed to favor the strong and punish the weak.  The wealthiest cities are able to build the best facilities and lure the most talented players and coaches.  It’s that simple.  And it stays that way.  At the end of every season, the three worst teams get demoted to Second Division (which is financial hell for those clubs) and the top three teams of Second Division move up, which is also financial hell for them because they often have to dish out millions of euros they barely have just to beef up the roster.  Otherwise they will get crushed up in the majors.  Well, they usually get crushed anyway, so it hardly matters.  There is no draft so the weaker teams don’t have a chance to build on what they have.  This is no land of opportunities.  It doesn’t mean that a team can’t poke its head through the clouds to realms of the elite, but it’s not that common and the system doesn’t favor it happening.

        Of course, it would help to set up a playoff system just liven things up in the post season, but I can’t see that happening.  Another option would be for there to be a European League so that these mighty giants could measure themselves against someone their own size, but they basically already have that with the European Cup Championship that is played out yearly in parallel with the national leagues.  So forget that. 

       Maybe this is all premature.  It is only the first week after all.  But if things don’t change, the ones who are really going to lose out are the fans. 

Real Madrid and FC Barcelona: a two-team league…again

I am a frustrated sports writer, just the way I am a frustrated solo guitarist, but I try to keep away from putting my thoughts on the subject in print basically because so much cyber space is devoted to it already.   Plus, I can’t stand adding comments to articles because then I spend the next two hours returning to the same place over and over just to see how many thumbs up or thumbs down I get.  So I stick to lively conversations with friends.  Every now and again my brain and fingers need a break from the usual topics of traveling and bitching night and day, and I resort to sports. 

This week, aside fromSpain’s performance in the European basketball tournament, the main talk of town is the demise of the Spanish soccer league because the two undisputed heavyweights, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, are getting heavier, and the rest of the teams are becoming distraught as opponents line up in their schedule to receive their thrashing.  At least, that is the impression the press and the other clubs are giving.  The fans are more blunt about it: they call the league una mierda…which kind of translates as a pile of crap.

            The problem is we are only one week into the season. 

          Why all the groaning?  Well, on Sunday Real Madrid opened its season with a match againstZaragoza, a modest team in the Liga, and handed them a 6-0 pummeling before getting back on the bus and returning to the capital.  And it could have been worse, trust me.  Zaragozahas just picked up ten new players over the summer, so it would be fair to say it needs more time to get into tune.  They were basically everywhere except for where the ball was. 

         The next day,Barcelonashowed the soccer world, as if it had to prove anything by now, that it was undaunted byMadrid’s opener, and walked all over Villareal, this time sending the visitors off the field with a 5-0 humiliation.  The painful difference here was that Villareal is (or at least was) considered to be one of the few clubs with any halfway serious shot at the title.  Yeah, right.  I guess that issue is settled ten months in advance. 

          That got everyone screaming and shouting about how unfair it was, and that the Liga was beginning to look like the Scottish League, God forbid, where for decades you have had two teams called the Glasgow Rangers and Celtic and a bunch of other teams who have their butts to them on a weekly basis.    

       Despite all the complaining, the fact is, this has been the case in Spain for a long time.  And it doesn’t take a lot of research to prove it.  Since my arrival here for the first time in 1988, FC Barcelona has won 11 times, Real Madrid 9 times, Valencia 2, Atlético de Madrid 1, Club Deportivo de Coruña 1.  In the 80 years of the Liga’s existence, these two teams have raised the trophy 52 times, with seven others sharing the remaining 28 championships, most of which were won before 1960.  That’s 65% of all the titles split between the two.  So to treat this situation as extraordinary is absurd.

         Another argument is that these two titans are hording all the world’s best players, making it impossible for the others to field anything remotely competitive.  Once again, you can hark back to the late 1950s when Real Madrid took the first five European Cup championships with arguably the best side ever assembled at club level…at least until the Barça of recent years.  Plus, who can blame soccer players for wanting to play for these teams.  Who wouldn’t?  They have the most incredible soccer I have ever seen, as much as it pains me to admit it. 

      I read an article in a Spanish sports daily by a veteran writer who focused on these very points, and when I put it down I came to the conclusion that the man had made a very convincing argument but had overlooked one basic element: just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it’s right.  And, if they don’t make some adjustments, it just might turn into a problem. 

I’ll tell you more a little later. 

Yes, folks, they are just that good

Fine, I have to admit it.   FC Barcelona won the Champions’ League Final fair and square.  They looked great.  Outstanding.  Manchester United did all right for the firt half, but Barcelona slowly but surely took over and by the second half, it turned into a one-sided event.   The bad side of me pulled for Manchester for a while, but eventually my admiration for Barça’s game got the best of me.  There really is no comparison.  In fact, if anything, last night’s performance all but confirmed that we are before one of the greatest teams in the history of the game.  I won’t go as far as to say the greatest because I think that is simply too difficult to claim, but certainly a serious candidate and in my opinion easily in the top three.  There are great soccer teams out there, and then there is Barcelona at a completely different atmospheric level.   And a person gets to see that first hand, it makes it that much more special.  Like watching Secretariat win the Triple Crown by 3o something lengths in the Belmont or Woods take the Masters by twelve strokes.  Such is the difference.   A sincere congratulations to Barcelona from a diehard Real Madrid fan.

Por Fin

Ya podemos seguir con nuestras vidas.  Se acaba de terminar el último de los cuatro encuentros entre el Madrid y el Barça, el mes de ensueño para muchos.  Sobre papel, el reparto ha sido muy igualado: un victoria para cada uno y dos empates.  Pero vamos a analizar mejor el contenido:  El Madrid empató el primero, dando por perdida la Liga.  Luego ganó la final de la Copr de Rey, que solo tenía interés porque jugaban los dos porque si no, vamos.  Luego perdió la ida la la semifinal de la Champions, merecidamente a pesar de las protestas y llantos por la expulsión de Pepe (que soy de los pocos que creen que que una roja no significa necesariamente dos goles).  Hoy con el empate, pasa Barça a la final.  Hubiera sido interesante que no anularan el gol porque habría cambiado la situación totalmente.  Pero nada.  Así que igualdad para todos y mayor premio para el Barcelona.

      Hoy ha sido el mejor partido de los cuatro.   O por lo menos el Madrid salió a marcar goles y se notó.    Por fin.   Por fin pero un poco tarde.   Porque, vamos, vaya tostón de partidos. 


El Soccer

Claro está que hace tiempo que intento convencer a los españoles que en Estados Unidos el fútbol se toma cada vez más en serio y que la gente ya es mucha más informada que antes.  Esto puede ser…yo hace poco más de 20 años, no había oído jamás del Real Madrid, os lo digo en serio, y eso que pocos años después sería considerado como el mejor club de fútbol del Siglo XX.  Pues como lo oyes.  Os lo confieso sin ningún problema.  Nos daba igual el fútbol europeo. 

       Ahora las cosas han cambiado un poco, y sí hay gente informada.  Mis amigos me siguen cuando les hablo de fútbol, con sumo desinterés eso sí, pero me siguen más o menos.  Lo mismo pasa con las noticias importantes y los medios de comunicación en USA.  Por lo menos parecen demostrar algún sefuerzo por estar al día, y prueba de ello ha sido seguir el noticón del mes, que son los cuatro encuentros en el Madrid y el Barça.  Ayer acabaron en un empate peleado y curioso.  Fue, quizá el menos importante de los cuatro partidos y inaugura unas semanas interesantes.   Pues así la cadena ESPN decidió comparar las proezas de esta temporada de Messi y Cristiano RONALDO.   Las mayúsculas son para que te fijes en la foto del jugador merengue.  Ya no digo más porque aquí si una foto vale mil palabras.   ¡Qué vergüenza!  ¡Qué disfrutéis!