Ever since the turn of the millennium, Spanish football has been the dominant force in European competition. Not only have Real Madrid and Barcelona won numerous UEFA Champions League titles since the year 2000, other clubs including Valencia and Atletico Madrid have played in finals – twice against Spanish opposition. Other clubs, too, such as Sevilla and Villarreal, have reached the latter stages of the knockout rounds of the competition. At UEFA Cup/Europa League level, the likes of Sevilla (numerous times), Valencia, and also Atletico Madrid have gone on to lift the trophy. So, with six of the last European Cup trophies heading back to Spain, the current season is a huge shock to the system.
Put simply, Spanish teams have faltered hugely in Europe.
Atletico lost their home leg against a weakened Chelsea team, losing 1-0 to put themselves on the verge of an exit. Sevilla were beaten 3-2 at home to Borussia Dortmund thanks in part to Erling Haaland; it could have, in truth, been worse; Barcelona were destroyed 4-1 at home to Paris Saint-Germain, thanks in part to Kylian Mbappe; and Real Madrid just scraped by Atalanta in the first leg, winning 1-0 against ten men.
At the Europa League level, Real Sociedad were thumped 4-0 at home in one of the worst results for a Spanish side in years. Other powerhouses of the Spanish game – especially Valencia – are languishing domestically and failing to even qualify for Europe. So, what has changed? What has meant that we could see Spanish football without a participant in the Quarter Finals of either competition?
What has caused Spanish failures in Europe?
There are myriad reasons for such a limited performance in Spain, but a large part of it comes down to finance. Having been a league that was stretched thin in terms of financial opportunity prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus has made the situation worse. Investment is a fraction of what was previously available, and player trading – a major source of income for Spanish sides – has dwindled due to the loss of revenue worldwide.
On top of this, many of the top clubs are boasting squads that are getting on a bit in age. While Luis Suarez has impressed beyond belief at age 34 in the domestic game, he has failed to make a huge impact once again at the UCL level. Other teams, including Real and Barcelona, have a lot of ageing players who are simply no longer at the level needed to play in the knockout rounds.
Other clubs, such as Sevilla, lack the depth of talent needed to go without a key player during the knockouts. It has left Spanish football with squads that are either bloated in terms of payment relative to their age or deeply thin and lacking the ability to really change a game when resources are stretched.
It really is hard to see a turnaround this season – and, if the COVID pandemic continues to shock the football economy, Spanish football could be set for a recession in both finances and in results on the European stage.