La Liga History, from early days to the legendary Messi vs. Ronaldo
La Liga, also known as Primera Division, is Spain's top football league. It was founded in 1929, two years after Jose Acha, a director at Arenas Club de Getxo, came up with the idea of a national league and almost four decades after football was introduced to Spanish people. A total of ten teams participated in the first season, which FC Barcelona won. Real Madrid was the last champion (2019-2020), in one of the most bizarre seasons in the History of La Liga which saw the league suspended for more than three months, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Everything You Need to Know about the History of La Liga
Now let us have a brief look at the spanish La Liga's history and see Which team came on top in different eras.
Early decades and the most influential figures
According to La Liga title history, Although Barcelona was the first champion of La Liga in 1929 and Real Madrid celebrated its first title three years later, it was Athletic Bilbao which was the first dominating force, winning four titles and ending three seasons as the runner-up in the 1930s.
La Liga was suspended between1937 to 1939 because of the Spanish civil war and resumed one year after the war ended. The period after the war was characterized by General Franco's strict policies, which affected football as well. One of Franco's policies was banning the use of non-Castilian names for La Liga clubs. Many teams had to change their names and in one of the most famous incidents of La Liga team's logo history, the Catalan shield was removed from FC Barcelona's shirt.
In the 1940s many different teams had their names written in La Liga winners history as Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, Real Madrid, and Barcelona all won the championship at least once.
Josef Simitier, a legendary player of both Real Madrid and Barcelona and Helenio Herera, the mastermind behind the famous Catenaccio style, were the two most influential figures of La Liga's post-war period. Simitier won three la Liga and a Copa Del Rey with Barcelona in the late 1940s. Herera, meanwhile, guided his Atletico Madrid side to back-to-back La Liga titles at the beginning the 1950's.
The beginning of Real Madrid-Barcelona Dominance
By now every football fan is well aware of the famous Real Madrid-Barcelona Rivalry. These two teams have won more than two-thirds of the tittles in La Liga champions history and their head-to-head fixture, known around the world as El Clasico, is the most viewed football game of the year, next to the Champions League final. But back in the '50s, these two giants were just beginning to dominate their opponents in La Liga.
FC Barcelona was the superior force throughout the 1950s. Coached by Helenio Herera and boasted by the qualities of legendary players like Laszlo Kubala, Cesar Rodriguez, and Mariano Gonzalvo, they won three back-to-back La Liga titles. Yet their most historic feat in La Liga winners history was achieved in 1952, when they won five out of five possible titles in Spanish football including La Liga, Copa Del Rey, and the Spanish super cup. Meanwhile in Madrid, Los Blancos were busy building a superior force that would dominant La Liga in the following two decades. A change in La Liga rules regarding the recruit of foreign players let Real Madrid secures the services of some of the best superstars of the planet as Legends like Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Raymond Kopa, and Francisco Gento helped Real Madrid to become the most powerful team, not only in La Liga but in the entire world.
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The Madrid Years" and the entrance of Johan Cruyff"
The following two decades of La Liga history are famous for Real Madrid's total dominance over their rivals and are known as "the Madrid Years". Based on the official La Liga winners list, Los Blanco's Superiority was such that they won an incredible 14 out of 20 possible titles. The other Madrid Giants, Atletico Madrid, were also able to celebrate four titles during this period. Di Stefano moved to Valencia in the final years of his career and helped them write their names in the La Liga champions list in 1971, but the most promising star of La Liga in the '70s was the Dutch legendary play-maker, Johan Cruyff who assisted Barcelona to come out of their bitter rival's shadow and inspired them to La Liga glory in 1974.
Barcelona's Dream Team and Real Madrid Galacticos
Throughout the 1980's the hegemony of Barcelona and Real Madrid lessened temporarily and both Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad were able to celebrate back-to-back titles. Then Johan Cruyff returned to Barcelona and assembled what would become one of the most popular teams in the history of football. He expanded the idea of possession-based Total Football and with the help of a golden generation of Barcelona's football academy, La Masia, the team went on to win four straight championships from 1991 till 1994. In total, Cruyff won 11 trophies in 8 years and was the most accomplished manager in Barcelona's history until Pep Guardiola broke the record almost twenty years later, with 14 titles in 4 seasons. Pep Guardiola, Romario, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov, and Ronald Koeman were the most influential players of FC Barcelona in this era.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Florentino Perez won Real Madrid presidency election against Lorenzo Sanz, introducing a new transfer policy in the history of Spanish La Liga which was based on buying expensive new signings each year. His first achievement was the infamous transfer of FC Barcelona's main star and captain, Luis Figo to Real Madrid. Perez went on to buy some of the most successful and popular superstars of the football world such as Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo Nazario, David Beckham, and Roberto Carlos. This Real Madrid team, known as the Galacticos in La Liga history went on to win three titles. However, their dominance ended in 2004 at the hand a Barcelona side, Guided by Frank Rijkaard, the team dazzled the game by the quality of stars such as Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o and the emergence of the Argentinian teenager sensation, Lionel Messi.
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Pep Guardiola's era and the duel of Messi vs Ronaldo
In 2008 Rijkaard was fired from Barcelona after a lackluster two-season spell which saw Real Madrid winning both titles. In a rather radical move Barcelona president, Juan Laporta decided to appoint Pep Guardiola as the head coach, despite the latter's lack of experience in coaching. The decision paid off incredibly. Guardiola's first move was to let the two main stars of the team, Ronaldinho and Deco leave the club and instead opted to build his new team around Lionel Messi and other La Masia talents such as Xavi, Carlos Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, and Sergio Busquets. He also revolutionized Cruyff's version of Total Football with high-pressing and Tiki-Taka Tactics. His team conquered every competition in the football world and went on to win a total of 14 titles in 4 seasons, including the unprecedented sextuple at 2008-2009 season.
This the era is also famous in the Spanish La Liga History for the incredible rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid superstars, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese legend joined Los Blancos in 2009 and helped them break Barcelona's Hegemony twice. First in 2011-2012, when Madrid won the league under manager Jose Mourinho and later in 2016-2017 season with Zidane in charge. But apart from the domestic titles and the amazing duel he enjoyed against Lionel Messi, Ronaldo's biggest achievement with Real Madrid was on the Continental competitions, as Real Madrid were able to win the Uefa Champions League a record three times in a row between 2015 to 2018.
On the domestic level, Barcelona has been able to maintain its dominance over the rivals in the last decade of La Liga table history. They have won 8 out of 12 titles in the past dozen years. Their best season after the departure of Guardiola was in 2014-2015, when the trio of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, known as MSN, was on fire and the team, under the management of Luis Enrique became the only side in Spanish football history to win the treble on two occasions. Apart from Real Madrid and Barcelona, Diego Someone's Atletico Madrid has been the only team able to taste La Liga glory in the past 16 years, as they managed to win the title in 2013-2014, their tenth title in the La Liga champions list.
As of summer 2020, Real Madrid is the reigning champion of La Liga, winning the 2019-2020 season which was suspended for three months because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, after an impressive 10 game winning streak at the end of campaign.
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Individual Trophies, and the most Iconic Records
The Pichichi Trophy
At the end of each La Liga season, the player with most goals scored is awarded The Pichichi Trophy. The trophy has been presented by the Spanish famous Sport newspaper, Marca since 1952. The legendary Telmo Zarra was the first player to win the trophy, scoring 24 goals in 29 matches for Athletic Bilbao. Zarra went on to win another 5 Pichichi trophies in his career. His record lasted many years until Messi won his seventh Pichichi in the 2019-2020 season, scoring 25 goals for Barcelona in 38 matches.
The Zamora Trophy
Also presented by sports newspaper, Marca, and named after the great Argentinian goalkeeper, Telmo Zara who played for Espanyol in the 1920s, The Zamora Trophy is awarded each season to the goalkeeper who concedes the least ratio of goals. Antoni Ramallets of Barcelona was the first goalkeeper to win it, conceding 24 goals in 28 games. Real Madrid Belgian goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois was the winner of the award in the 2019-2020 season, with an impressive stats of only 20 goals conceded in 38 matches. Victor Valdez and Ramallets are the shared record-holders, both winning the award 5 times.
Most Iconic Records
As of August 2020, many of the all-time record in La Liga history are held by Barcelona's Argentinian magician, Lionel Messi, including:
- Most goals scored (444 goals in 485 games)
- Most assists (183)
- Most goals in a single campaign (50 goals in 2011-2012)
- Most goals scored in a calendar year (91 goals in 2012)
- Most opponents scored against (37)
- Best goal-scoring streak (33 goals in 21 consecutive games in 2011-2012 season)
- Most hat-tricks (37)
The real Madrid Portuguese legend and Messi's rival, Cristiano Ronaldo also holds some all-time records despite playing only 9 seasons in La Liga. Among those records are:
- Most league hat-tricks scored in a season (8 hat-tricks, joint with Messi)
- Fastest to reach 150, 200, 250 and 300 La Liga goals
- Most penalties taken (72)
- Most penalties scored (61)
The great FC Barcelona goalkeeper, Andoni Zubizarreta holds the record for most career appearance in La Liga with 622 games played.
Most interesting Statistical facts
- In almost a century of professional football in La Liga, only 9 teams have lifted the trophy.
- Barcelona and Real Madrid has been the two most successful clubs in La Liga table history, winning 61 out of 90 possible titles. Real Madrid is the record holder with 34 titles and Barcelona is the second place with 26. Atletico Madrid is the third, winning a total of 10 trophies.
- Only Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Athletic Bilbao have never been relegated in Spanish La Liga history.
- Athletic Bilbao has the best winning margin in the history of La Liga, humiliating Barcelona 12-1 in 1931. Athletic Bilbao 9-5 win against Racing Santander in 1933 is the game with most goals in the history of La Liga.
- Laszlo Kubala and Agustín Sauto Arana are the only two players in the history of La Liga to score 7 goals in a single match.
- It took Brazilian world-cup winner and Deportivo La Coruña legend, Bebeto only 4 minutes and 43 seconds to score the fastest hat-trick in the history of La Liga. (Against Albacete in 1995)
- The Brazilian goalkeeper, Diego Alves has saved a record 22 penalties in his La Liga career, including another record of 6 penalty saves in a single season (2016-2017)
What other interesting facts do you know about the La Liga history? Let us know in the comment section below.