For many the La Liga in Spain is the best league in the world and the main reason for this is their two top teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Florentino Perez backed dream of a team of superstars and the rejuvenated Barcelona that began with Joan Laporta and Frank Rijkaard and was then taken to another level by Pep Guardiola have ensured that both teams have not only dominated Spanish football but also been dominant powers in Europe as well.
Since 2000, the Champions League has been won eight times by Spanish clubs (four times by Real Madrid and four times by Barcelona), three times by English clubs (Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea), three times by Italian clubs (Twice by AC Milan and once by Inter Milan) and once by a Portuguese club (Jose Mourinho inspired Porto). This stat shows the dominance not just of the Spanish clubs but Barcelona and Real Madrid in particular.
This is because both clubs have successfully built two monsters in footballing terms. Both teams currently hold the undisputed best footballers in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and have also had stellar supporting casts over the years such as Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane, the Andres Iniesta – Xavi partnership, the Spanish golden boy Raul Gonzalez Blanco, Samuel Eto'o, Gareth Bale, Neymar and so on; the list is endless. In summary both teams have bought well and especially in Barcelona’s case, have promoted well from within. The result has been an elevation of the clubs and the league across Europe. Each team is packed with the best players in their respective positions and even more so, every player wants to play for Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Battling against the top players in these two clubs have also helped rejuvenate the other teams in the league with Athletico Madrid and Sevilla in particular emerging from the shadows to become a force in Europe as well. In fact, in the last 10 years, the Europa League has been won six times by Spanish clubs.
Could Jose and Pep turn the tide?
The knock on effect on the Premier League has been undeniable. The Premier League is the richest league in the world but it still loses its best players to La Liga. Players at the peak of their powers in their Premier League clubs have been unable to resist the allure of Real Madrid and Barcelona; Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric to mention a few have all swapped the English shores for a bit of El Classico action. Even more concerning is the fact that in recent years the Premier League clubs have struggled to be relevant in Europe falling way behind their European counterparts.
The top clubs in the Premier League have suffered from poor recruitment and poor management but this season there is a great opportunity to get things right.
With Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Manchester United and Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City, the Premier League has arguably the two best managers in the world. Managers who know how to win and more importantly, who know how to set up a team to win. Should the Portuguese and Spanish maestros bring their golden touch to their two Manchester sides it could easily be the start of something special in Manchester and the Premier League.
A new beginning
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are not getting younger and there are signs in their game that they may be at the point where they are getting less super human and while La Liga still has Gareth Bale and Neymar it is not quite the same. With the right recruitment, the Manchester clubs can build teams that contain the next generations top two players.
Looking at the signings of Jose and Pep and the players already at their disposal, there is already a good chance that both clubs are moving in this direction. The likes of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford and even Memphis Depay, if managed properly and given the right environment could all turn out to be the dominating names in world football for years to come. Over the road at City, Pep has invested in the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and John Stones to complement the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Kun Aguero again all with the potential to become great players in their own right.
If both teams click and these players fulfil their potential and are able to thrive under the coaching and mentoring of their respective managers in tandem with the inevitable additional investment in the squad in future transfer windows (given the financial strength of both clubs) or clever promoting from the youth section, then what you will have is two monsters in footballing terms that are ready to dominate at Premier League and European level again.
An exciting future
Part of the stardust for La Liga was the story behind the rivalries. Ronaldo vs Messi, Pep vs Jose and Luis Figo vs Barcelona were a few of the sub plots in addition to the great rivalry between the two teams. When you add all this sub plots to a game between two very good world class teams that happen to be big rivals as well, it is a recipe for success.
In the Manchester derby, the Premier League has a contest capable of putting even El Classico in its shade. The bitter rivalry between the twi clubs that is only matched by the Manchester United- Liverpool rivalry, the arrival of Pep and Jose, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his history with the Catalan coach, add to that the world’s most expensive player and all you need is two top quality teams to have a genuine box office prospect
This is what the Manchester derby can bring to the Premier League. With the right management and a careful nurturing of the players, with the right recruitment and the right balance of promotion from within the ranks, the Premier League have right now a formula that in a couple of years could be the most watched and anticipated game in world football.
Two very successful and word class Manchester teams would have a positive effect on the rest of the league as competing against them and regularly trying to find ways to better them would make the other teams better and just as Athletico Madrid and Sevilla profited from the constant battles with the big two in Spain to become a power in their own right, the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham would profit from being in competition against two monsters.
Competing against the best makes you better. In the last couple of years all the top Premier League sides have been at best slightly above average and the results have been there for all to see particularly when they have met their European counterparts.
For every stakeholder of the Premier League it is imperative that both Jose and Pep do great jobs at their respective Manchester clubs and at the very least leave a foundation for future sustained success. This is beneficial not just for both clubs but for the entire league as well.
All eyes will be focused on the first Manchester derby under their watch in a week’s time.