x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Rule of Spain's big two making it dull

A weary predictability greeted Real Madrid's confirmation of their signing of Racing Santander's wonder kid, Sergio Canales, last week.

A weary predictability greeted Real Madrid's confirmation of their signing of Racing Santander's wonder kid, Sergio Canales, last week. The 19-year-old attacking midfielder, who looks as good as he plays, will stay at the Cantabrian club on Spain's hostile north Atlantic coast this season and next, but it would have made matters far more interesting if he had stayed even longer rather than be snapped up by one of Spain's big two.

Barcelona lead Real by two points, but below them is a mammoth 13-point chasm before Valencia in third, a gap which is likely to widen as the season progresses. Such is their domestic dominance and increasing financial muscle, the race for the current Primera Liga only ever had two candidates. The football is often sublime, but Spain has become as predictable as Scotland, where the dominance of Celtic and Rangers leads to one of the dullest leagues. Compare that to Sweden, which has had 11 different champions in the past 15 years.

In the last quarter of a century, the title has gone to Barca or Real on all but four occasions. All but the most partisan look back with a fondness to when Deportivo La Coruna managed to win the league in 2000, despite Barca buying their best player Rivaldo a few years earlier. Valencia triumphed twice in the noughties, but it is inconceivable that a club outside the big two will win it this decade.

Whereas the increasing pot of television money is shared among English clubs and makes the Premier League one of the most competitive big leagues in the world, a league where the reigning champions Manchester United have already lost six games this season, including defeats to Fulham, Everton and Aston Villa, Spain is becoming more polarised and the top two are so wealthy that they have left the rest trailing in their wake. English clubs do snare the brightest talents and the best players tend to join the richest teams. Despite Wayne Rooney wearing a T-shirt stating 'Once a Blue, always a Blue', Manchester United signed him from his childhood club Everton in 2003. Money, and the development of his football career, talked and it is implausible that he would have won league titles and European Cups with Everton. But as recently as the mid 1980s, Everton were twice English champions and beat rivals to the signature of Gary Lineker from Leicester City.

Now, without a wealthy benefactor, finishing sixth would be an immense achievement even with such a fine manager as David Moyes. There are players who stay at one club through their careers. Some fortunate ones such as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Alessandro Del Piero, have the talent to match the status of their clubs. Others, like Matt Le Tissier, by opting to spend his entire career at lowly Southampton, spurned the chance of more money and silverware.

Francesco Totti has vowed never to leave Roma and when I interviewed Daniele De Rossi, the Italian international and Roma midfielder, recently, he said the same. "To wear the Roma shirt means more to me than anything," he said. Footballers can seldom choose where they play and loyalty can be a two-way process, but credit to those who do choose one club out of affinity and loyalty. Like Rooney at Everton, Canales never really had a choice. There was too much money for others to lose by him staying at Santander, so he was advised that a move would be better for his football. It might well be, but Racing fans can only dream about what might have happened had he gone on to play for them in his prime.