In recent times, the Premier League's self-proclaimed title as the best league in the world has been contested by Spain's La Liga. Both Real Madrid and Barcelona have been successfully striking fear into the hearts of European opposition even more than usual for the past few years, and the Spanish national team has emphatically swept aside all challengers in the last two major competitions.
The upturn in Spanish football's fortunes has been little short of remarkable, having spent most of the '90s enviously watching the seemingly inexhaustible conveyor belt of talent playing in England and Italy's Serie A and the national team perennially underachieving.
With the two best players on the planet, Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (of Barca and Real respectively), currently gracing the pitches of La Liga, and the former's team arguably the greatest club side of all time, things haven't shown any real sign of letting up in Spain's fortunes. However, two crucial developments in recent weeks have threatened to plunge Spanish football, both at club level and internationally, into an unprecedented disaster.
Football, and not just exclusively in Spain, has been steadily building on an unsustainable foundation of loans and ever-increasing debt, and it is becoming increasingly likely that La Liga will be the first major league to truly bear the brunt of this financial way of life coming back to bite it. In England we've seen several clubs crumble under the weight of unsound financing, and some prominent Spanish clubs, including giants Valencia, have very much been "selling clubs" for several years now, but it appears as though the end may be nigh for the system as a whole.
The EU has begun to question the Spanish government as to why it has allowed clubs in the top two divisions to amass an astonishing amount of debt (totalling around €3.5bn), a staggering figure that has inspired ire from those inside and out of the football world, thanks in no small part to Spain's recent request for a €40bn aid package.
Should the Spanish authorities crack down on the clubs, the repercussions would be huge. As is par for the course in recent seasons, Barcelona and Real Madrid are on an entirely different playing field to the rest of the league, and their huge TV-rights packages mean they, and possibly Athletic Bilbao (famous for their staunch reliance on players from the Basque region, thus negating their need to spend in the transfer market) will emerge largely unscated, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the league.
Several clubs - including Deportivo de la Coruña, Real Zaragoza and Valencia - will face an uphill battle to continue operating, and those that are able to continue will be significantly hindered for years to come as a result, paving the way for the self-perpetuating duopoly of Real and Barca to increase exponentially.
If that wasn't bad enough for Spanish football fans, they may not even be able to turn to their all-conquering national team for solace. Eufemiano Fuentes, a sports doctor implicated in a widespread doping scandal, has repeatedly sated that if he was to break his silence, it would lead to the Spanish national team being stripped of their 2010 World Cup. Former Real Sociedad president Inaki Badiola confirmed in court last month that players under his regime were using banned substances supplied by Fuentes, suggesting that his claims may not be entirely without basis.
Admittedly, Fuentes poses a considerably more dubious threat than the crackdown on club debt; his latest threat is the most recent of several, and there's doubtlessly a bit of self-promotion going on (there's also the unanswered question of if the drugs help speed recovery from injuries why they were never administered to Fernando Torres), but it's worrying nonetheless, and the last thing that Spanish football needs right now.
Spanish football as a whole has been a guiding light to the rest of the world in times when the game is becoming increasingly money-orientated and, in the eyes of many, losing its soul. The Spanish national team is made up of lifelong friends who routinely put aside the differences of their club sides to dominate the world stage, and both Barca and Real are as mesmerising as they are intimidating. However, a mere cursory glance at Serie A says an awful lot about how quickly things can change, and Spanish football must act now if it is to avoid what could prove to be the final whistle.Suggest a correction