Last week, in an interview with the BBC, La Liga president Javier Tebas alluded to an impending disaster — depending on who you ask — when speaking about the inevitable losses of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Tebas estimated the exodus of the world’s two best players could happen in the next three seasons, leaving the league with a massive gap to fill. While his worries may be a tad premature, it’s prudent to start anticipating life after the pair. Messi and Ronaldo have been dominating Europe for almost a full decade, and at 28 and 30 years old, respectively, they are fast approaching the final acts of their careers.
Now, one isn’t quite sure exactly when this will happen. Messi, already beginning the slow transition into a more attacking midfield role, isn’t the force of nature he was in 2012, but he is a far smarter player, picking his spots when needed. Conversely, Ronaldo may have already lost a touch of pace, but he’s fought off any rumors of his decline by essentially doubling down on his output. No longer marooned on the left wing, he’s become the ultimate surgeon in the box. Last season, though Madrid faltered at the end, Ronaldo had his best statistical season ever, netting 61 goals and 22 assists in all competitions.
Still, Tebas is right to speculate. Despite the widespread success of Spanish teams in Europe, La Liga has tethered the majority of its marketing in recent years to the rivalry between the two legends. It’s a point not lost on Tebas. “La Liga needs to be more than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo,” he said in the interview. “We are selling this duel between them to the world, but we need to sell different concepts. We need to sell ourselves as an international brand.”
Of course, this entire discourse is part of a thinly veiled attempt to compete with the riches and popularity of the Premier League. This summer, Premier League spending crossed €1 billion, while La Liga capped out at a little over €500 million. While that gap is significant, without the attraction of the big two, the chasm could have been far worse.
La Liga needs to diversify and give their other talents the spotlight that they deserve. True, Ronaldo and Messi dwarf the competition, but that doesn’t inherently render the completion non-essential. Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann has recently started receiving the kind of plaudits he’s been, but in another league — lets just say for example the EPL — Grizemann would have been propped up as a star long ago. This extends to many other talents as well. Celta Vigo’s Nolito is one of the more exciting attackers in Europe, yet he’s a relative unknown. Frankly, most casual fans only learn of La Liga talents when the players are in the crosshairs of an EPL raid; case in point the likes of Michu, Ander Herrera, Santi Carzola and even, to a lesser extent, David Silva and Sergio Aguero.