La Liga Spanish Football League
La Liga Football League has come a long way – from featuring ten clubs to doubling in size; from being the secondary tournament in Spain behind the Copa del Rey to overtaking it; from limits on the number of foreigners to boasting international superstars galore.
Spain has been the hotbed of European football, with Spanish football widely followed across the globe. However, it has only been since the last decade or so that the La Liga Football League has simply exploded in popularity. With the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and the rise of Lionel Messi at FC Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid repeatedly upsetting the Madrid-Barca duopoly, the La Liga Football League has seen some outstanding title races of late.
Take this season, for example. The La Liga title was decided on the final day of the season, with former Barcelona star Luis Suarez deciding the fate of the league, thanks to a winner for Atletico Madrid against Real Valladolid. Real Madrid were also in the race till the final day, with Barcelona running out of steam on the penultimate day following a loss to Celta Vigo.
However, there is more to the La Liga Football League than just the fierce competition between these 3 outfits. It is a historic competition, made up with iconic goals, legacies and eras of dominance. We will take a look at all that and much more in this piece.
The history of the La Liga Football League
In 1928, the Spanish FA gave the go-ahead for the formation of the Primera Division i.e the highest level of league football competition in Spain. 10 clubs were permitted to participate in the league – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Athletic Club, Real Sociedad, Getxo, Real Union, Real Espanyol and Racing de Santander. Out of these first 10, only the first three have never been relegated to the second division.
Over the following years, the league continued to expand in terms of participants, growing to 14 members in 1941, 16 in 1950, 18 in 1971 and to the current 20-team set-up in 1987.
Before the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Athletic Club was setting the pace in the La Liga Football League. They won 4 titles in 1930, 1931, 1934 and 1936. Barcelona had won only one, the inaugural season while Real Madrid lifted the other two. After the league resumed in 1939, Atletico, Valencia and Sevilla all joined the party – winning titles throughout the decade. However, the 1940s unquestionably belonged to FC Barcelona, who pocketed three La Liga Football League and one Copa Del Ray title.
The 1950s and the Madrid era - An utter and complete period of dominance
Between 1950 to 1980, Real Madrid lifted the La Liga title a total of 18 times. They were absolutely brutal in their dominance, with the latter half of the 1950s setting the Madridistas up for their unforeseen success. In the presence of giants of the game like de Stefano, Puskas, Kopa and Gento, Madrid ran riot both in Spain and Europe – winning 5 European Cups on the bounce as well. They also won five back-to-back titles from 1961 to 1965, underlining just how incredible their squad was.
A massive credit to this period of unmatched dominance must go to Madrid president Santiago Bernabeu. Under his tutelage, Madrid became the first global squad in the sport. At that time, Spanish teams were required to field at least 8 natural players but Bernabeu found a way to circumvent the rule. He naturalized the likes of de Stefano and Puskas. That way, he was able to integrate these world-class players to his squad and the results were there for all to see.
Other than his managerial nuances, Bernabeu was also a visionary off the field. It was thanks to his efforts that the Madrid youth academy, or Fabrica was built. Having the job to rebuild the club from scratch after the Civil War, he also directed his energy to create the Bernabeu stadium where the club plays from today. Apart from the names already mentioned, iconic players like Hector Rial, Jose Santamaria and Amancio also played under the great man. By the time he passed away in 1978, Real Madrid has become one of the most widely-recognized and respected football clubs in the globe – with six European, sixteen La Liga Football League and six Spanish Cups to their name.
1980s and 1990s – the return of Barcelon & Coupled with the rise of Johan Cruyff as a footballing lore.
Despite the omnipresence of Real Madrid in the winning podiums of almost all competitions in the 70s, FC Barcelona too made their mark every now and then thanks to the mercurial genius of one Johan Cruyff. In the early part of the 80s, Athletic Club, Real Sociedad and Barcelona all won the La Liga Football League but the Madrid side led by Hugo Sanchez and Butragueno once again did a fifer between 1986 and 1990.
Cruyff returned to Barcelona in 1988, but as a manager this time around. It was a phase that would forever alter the course of the club, as he created his Dream Team that was marshalled by academy graduates like Pep Guardiola, Andoni Zubizarreta and Albert Ferrer, as well as international superstars like Romario, Michael Laudrup and current Barca boss Ronald Koeman. In a period of unprecedented success for the club, Cruyff won eleven titles including four consecutive La Liga Football League trophies and a European Cup.Cruyff’s philosophy would change football forever, as his idea of Total Football would redefine the way the game was played and continues to do so. His ability to balance academy starlets with well-established names was unmatched, and his tactics and man-management skills spoke volumes about his genius. His effect revived Barcelona, and his impact on the club is almost as much, if not more than what Bernabeu had on Real Madrid.
Following his incredible achievements, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid both lifted the La Liga Football League in the mid-90s but Barcelona came thumping back under Louis van Gaal to lift the trophy again in 1998 and 1999. An identity had been put in place, and the Cules would enter the new century and usher in even more success thanks to Cruyff’s works.
The modern era: 2000 onwards - The establishment of Barcelona and Real Madrid as superclubs.
The 21st century has seen both these historic clubs turned into household names, in no small part thanks to the epic battles they have fought during all the El Clasicos in the La Liga Football League and beyond. Under Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola, Barcelona won multiple European Cups and La Liga titles while Real Madrid launched their Galactico project to counter the Cules.
Since the turn of the century, Barcelona has won 10 La Liga titles, including two trebles. While Valencia and Deportiva La Coruna won titles in the early 2000s, Real Madrid quickly balanced out the balance of power by bringing aboard stars of the ilk of David Beckham, Luis Figo, Ronaldo and Raul. However, all that failed to restrict Barcelona, who under Guardiola and in the presence of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta became an irresistible force, winning 13 titles in 4 years. It was a period of hegemony, the likes of which were last seen under Bernabeu’s Madrid. They humiliated Ronaldo’s Madrid on multiple occasions, became the first Spanish club to win the treble and were widely regarded as one of the greatest teams of all times.With the departure of Guardiola to Bayern Munich, Barca’s dominance diminished somewhat but they still won another treble in 2015. Real Madrid came back under Zinedine Zidane, winning the league twice between 2016 and 2020. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid was crowned the champions of the La Liga Football League in 2014, a feat, as mentioned before they managed to repeat once again this season.
All in all, it goes without saying that the La Liga Football League has been mostly dominated by these two great Spanish clubs, and with the right reasons. The history, grandeur and romance of the league has been greatly accentuated by these giants and one hopes they continue to adorn the league for many, many more years.
Teams with the most La Liga Football League titles:
Players with most goals in La Liga Football League:
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