For well over a century, football has traversed our little blue planet and cemented its popularity on almost every continent. From Europe to North America, from Africa to Asia, the most beautiful of games has created the most legendary teams and the most iconic players. Most would agree that Brazil and Pelé, respectively, are the ones who bear this coveted torch. However, though football may reside in the Maracana Stadium of our South American neighbor, it is by no means its birthplace or the most exciting place to watch it.
The English Premier League has, for many years now, dominated the footballing world with its fast pace and aggressive style of play. Teams like Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool reigned supreme over both foreign and domestic clubs; players such as David Beckham, Gary Lineker, and Geoff Hurst were pivotal when on the field for both club and country. With such a rich history of title-winning teams, players, and managers, it’s no surprise that the league that all dreamed of playing in was the EPL.
But as history has shown, all good things must come to an end, and England’s lucrative position as the world’s best league no longer holds true. The crown has finally been passed on, and to no better contender than Spain's first division: La Liga.
For the past thirty years or so, Spain's Primera División could easily be described as a two-horse race between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, a battle which culminated between the 2004 and 2013 seasons. During this nine year period, only the azulgrana and los blancos held the league title, and both consistently finished in either first or second place and well ahead of the opposition.
However, La Liga has written a much more competitive story over the last two years, the most notable being Atlético de Madrid's awe-inspiring draw over FC Barcelona in their final match of the 2013/14 season, thus taking the league title home to the Vicente Calderón.
Similarly, teams like Valencia, Villarreal, and Real Sociedad have caused heart-breaking problems for Spain’s top two clubs. This calendar year alone has seen defeats for both Barcelona and Madrid. In Round 17, Valencia managed to hold off los Galácticos to a 2-1 victory at the Mastalla. Later that month, los colchoneros knocked the European Champions out of the Copa del Rey tournament, and then again in February, Atleti completely obliterated Real in a 4-0 home win.
Unfortunately, the Club World Cup winners were not the only team to suffer a major blow in the league. Early in the competition, FC Barcelona were held to a nil-nil draw by Málaga and, only five weeks later, were defeated by Luis Enrique’s old side, Celta de Vigo, just one week after their humiliating loss to Real Madrid in the season's first clásico. Later that calendar year, los cules were held to another 0-0 stalemate against Getafe a mere three weeks before their next loss to Real Sociedad, the team that, up to that moment, managed to take points from La Liga’s top three.
On the other hand, some of the Premier League’s most decorated clubs have struggled to stay afloat. Arsenal and Liverpool have painfully disappointed their supporters with a string of losses and draws, while Manchester United, who used to sit on top of the footballing world, have finally found a bit of luck and cracked the top three, though they still sit twelve points behind league leaders, Chelsea.
It has been poor performances by some of the EPL’s elite that have not only caused a downward shift in the league’s competitiveness, but have also denied an English team the opportunity to lift the European title more than once in the past five years. In fact, in the last five rounds of Champions League competition, both Barcelona and Real Madrid have taken the title home a combined number of three times.
With such a wide array of popular and successful clubs within the Iberian Peninsula, it was almost inevitable that they would attract the greatest players the world has to offer. And in today's era, none have proved that more than the two Goliaths of soccer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo sealed his legen-wait for it-dary status during his time at Manchester United with his skill on the ball, his speed and quick feet, and, obviously, the plethora of goals he scored. Nevertheless, his move from Man U to the Spanish capital turned him into a machine capable of extraordinary feats in front of goal. In spite of his recent poor performances, CR7 only seems to be getting better, having scored 29 unbelievable goals and, with a little less than half of a season still left to play, he'll be well beyond the 31 he scored last year by the time May comes around.
With such an incredible forward dominating at the Santiago Bernabéu, it almost seems selfish for the Spanish league to have another, but we live in an era where even Ronaldo's magic can be overshadowed by a little Argentine named Lionel Messi.
There are those that consider Messi to be the greatest footballer of our era, a player whose accomplishments will not be matched in the foreseeable future. He’s a player whose softer-than-a-summer-breeze touches, dribbling skills, and mind-boggling goals from set pieces and inside the 18-yard box have been compared to, and possibly surpassed, those of his compatriot Diego Maradona. In this season alone, Leo has broken 2 records, the most prominent being that of Telmo Zarra’s 251 La Liga goals, a record crushed by Messi during Barcelona’s winning match against Sevilla.
Messi’s more-than-a-man-but-not-quite-a-god style of play is unfathomable and he will be remembered throughout eternity. At this moment, there is no one better. Ray Hudson said it best when he stated on beIN Sports’ Ray Hudson Raw, "he [Messi] abides in the magnetic spectrum of genius with the ball, where his divine connection of eyes, to brain, to feet cannot be measured with a stopwatch or a number". Lionel Messi is simply the best.
When the world’s two most prominent players combine with its greatest clubs, there is no stopping them, and luckily for us, they all reside in the beautiful country of Spain. For now, the tide has shifted and the Spanish league holds football’s best competition. But for how long? Only time will tell. So let us simply rejoice in and enjoy the wonder that is La Liga.
- La Liga Report: Jornada 23
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- Gerard Piqué: 'Luis Enrique is the boss'
- FC Barcelona News: 13 February 2015; Ariedo Braida Officially Joins Barcelona, '1 in 11' Auction a Success