Spanish Football League (La Liga)

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Published: 08/10/2013

“La Liga” is the Spanish football league. Its upper tier, consisting of 20 teams since 1988, is called the Primera División, while the lower tier is referred to as the Segunda División, which has featured 22 squads since 1995. At the end of each season, the three lowest placed teams in the top tier are relegated to the Segunda División, with the top three there coming up to replace them.

In 2008, the Premier División came under the sponsorship of a multinational Spanish banking group called Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A., thus giving rise to its official title, “Liga BBVA.” In June 2013, the agreement between BBVA and the Spanish Professional Football League (LFP) was extended for another three years, renewable up to 2018, in return for an investment of slightly more than €70 million (€23.5 million per season).

A Long & Successful History

Competitive professional football has been played in Spain for more than 100 years, with many of the nation’s oldest clubs celebrating their centenaries during seasons just recently past. The Spanish Cup Competition, now known as “La Copa del Rey,” or the King’s Cup, was inaugurated in 1902 to celebrate the coronation of King Alfonso XIII. It was won by Bizcaya, a team made up of players from Athletic Club and Bilbao FC, who defeated FC Barcelona by a score of 2-1 at the Hipódromo in Madrid.

Until 1928, the Spanish football clubs were only loosely organised and La Copa del Rey remained the country’s de facto National Championship. In April 1927, however, the idea of creating a national league was proposed by José María Acha, a director at Arenas Club de Getxo, leading to the formation the first Primera División in 1929. Its initial ten teams included Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Arenas Club de Getxo and Real Unión—all previous winners of La Copa del Rey. They were joined by prior Cup runners-up Atlético Madrid, Espanyol and Europa, plus Racing de Santander, who qualified through a knockout competition. To this day, three of the founding clubs—Real Madrid, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao—have never been relegated.

Except for the suspension of league play during the Spanish Civil War (1936~39), La Liga has enjoyed tremendous success year upon year. In 75 seasons, out of 55 clubs that have played in the top tier, only nine teams have managed to win the league, headed by Real Madrid on 32 occasions, FC Barcelona with 20 victories and Atlético Madrid with 9, including 1939-40 and 1940-41 as Atlético Aviación. The others to have tasted success are Athletic Bilbao 8 times, Valencia 5, Real Sociedad 2, Betis 1, Sevilla 1 and Deportivo La Coruña 1.

The same teams still compete for La Copa del Rey, of course. The ones with most titles are FC Barcelona with 26, Athletic Bilbao with 23, Real Madrid 18 and Atlético Madrid 9. It is said that winning the cup competition in Spain is far less important than being La Liga’s champion—“many managers have been sacked for winning the cup and not the league, but very few the other way round.”

The Current State of La Liga

Although Spain’s national side has been a perennial underachiever, with only one European Championship prior to 2008, the clubs of the Primera División have consistently ranked among the most successful teams in European competition history. Valencia, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid have all won five or more international trophies, whilst the former two plus Valencia are rated among the top ten most successful clubs in European football in terms of total European trophies.

In fact, based on their performances in European competitions over a five-year period, the Primera División has recently reached #1 in the UEFA rankings of European leagues, ahead of the English Premier League in second and Germany’s Bundesliga in third. And with local attendances averaging around 30,000 fans per game, La Liga ranks among the top three professional football leagues in the world.

Entering the 2013-14 season, which begins on 17 August 2013 and runs through 18 May 2014, FC Barcelona are the defending champions of the Primera División. Relegated to the 2013–14 Segunda División were RCD Mallorca, Deportivo de La Coruña and Real Zaragoza, and they have been replaced by lower tier division winner Elche CF after 24 years of absence, runners-up Villarreal and play-off winner Almería. The other 16 top-tier contestants are Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid, Betis, Celta de Vigo, Espanyol, Getafe, Granada, Levante, Málaga, Osasuna, Rayo Vallecano, Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, Sevilla, Valencia and Valladolid.

Published on: 08/10/2013

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