BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Gareth Bale's move to Real Madrid to join Cristiano Ronaldo will no doubt boost the star power of the Spanish league as the club challenges Lionel Messi and Neymar's Barcelona for the title.
But beneath the glamor that Bale's signing brings there festers an ongoing crisis in the Spanish game: the days of entertaining football beyond the Santiago Bernabeu and Camp Nou may be numbered.
Simply put, the Spanish league is financially rigged for two of its 20 topflight teams to triumph.
And Madrid's ability to pay a world-record 100 million euros ($132 million) to Tottenham for Bale only underscores the tremendous, and growing, wealth gap.
Barcelona and Madrid pull in €140 million ($185 million) a year each from television revenues. The next-highest earner, Atletico Madrid, gets €47 million ($62 million). Minnow Rayo Vallecano receives €14 million ($18.5 million).
Madrid and Barcelona are the world's richest teams. But while they saw their income rise by 7% during the 2011-12 season with Madrid earning €512.6 million (then $683 million) and Barcelona €483 million (then $643 million), most of the rest of the clubs in recession-hit Spain had to sell their best players this offseason to pay down debt as several, like Rayo, try to emerge from bankruptcy protection.
Messi and Ronaldo finished one-two at the top of the league's top scorers list last campaign. The next best trio of goalscorers— Radamel Falcao, Alvaro Negredo, and Roberto Soldado— all left along with a slew of other players who have emigrated over the past few seasons.
That means fewer threats for Madrid and Barcelona defenses to worry about, and less competition for fans to enjoy.
Negredo said the choice to leave Sevilla for Manchester City was easy: stay and lose again, or leave and have a shot at winning.
"I chose England because I thought it was best for me. And besides, only Madrid and Barcelona win the Spanish league now," said Negredo. "To win you have to be on one of those two teams. That's why players leave to come here. You just have to look at the great season Atletico had last year to only end up so many points behind."
Even Spanish media, which once insisted the Spanish league was the best, is now calling for action to reduce the gap between the two powerhouses and what is often referred to as "the other league" of the remaining teams.
All of Europe's football leagues favor the wealthiest clubs. But nine straight years of dominance by Barcelona and Madrid— only once since 2004 have the two not finished first and second— has dismantled the fiction of a wider field of contenders.
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