20 reasons to love football just as we know it

The Spanish league has always stood out for the quality of its football and the performances of its sides in Europe. More than that, though, all its clubs are genuinely unique. 

The 2020/21 LaLiga Santander season is reaching a dramatic climax, both at the top, in the fight for the title and the European spots, and bottom of the table in the battle against relegation. But beyond the on-field drama, the stadiums and rivalries, there are so many more reasons to follow LaLiga Santander closely week in, week out. Here are 20 reasons why LaLiga is unique in world football. 

Athletic Club’s unique philosophy. In an increasingly globalised world, Athletic buck the trend. They’ve stayed true to the same philosophy since 1911, only fielding Basque players or those trained in the region. As the players often say, they’re a group of close friends facing up against the best teams in the world. ‘The Cathedral,’ as the club’s San Mames stadium is known, stands proud as Athletic continue to stand strong as a bastion of tradition in an ever-changing world.  

The genius of Lionel Messi. One of the greatest players of all time, if not the best. FC Barcelona was already one of the biggest clubs in world football, thanks to the legacy of the likes of Cruyff, Maradona and Ronaldinho, and its iconic style of total football which has spread across the world. But La Pulga (‘the flea’) has taken them to another level for over a decade now. Every minute he represents Barça in LaLiga Santander is unmissable.  

The winning mentality of Real Madrid. Champions among champions. Without their influence, football today wouldn’t be the same. They boast more LaLiga Santander and Champions Leagues titles than any other club in history and have counted (and continue to count) the very best players in world football among their ranks. But that’s never enough. They take each game as if it were a final, keeping fans on the edge of their seats until the final whistle every single week. As club legend Juanito said: “90 minutes at the Bernabeu is a very long time.” When the Bernabeu roars, absolutely anything can happen. 

The resilience and passion of Simeone’s Atletico. One match at a time, the Argentine coach is making history with Los Colchoneros. Under his leadership, traditional, tough football has evolved into a unique balance of pragmatism and solid brilliance. Each match is a beautiful story of overcoming. An approach which has taken the club to the heights of LaLiga’s historical big two. Add in Atleti’s incredible and passionate fans, a fanbase almost unmatched in their unconditional commitment to the cause.  

The burgeoning talents of Sevilla FC: The Andalusian club are strongly rooted in their community, and their city. Nevertheless, they’ve cleverly embraced the outside world and new ideas to become one of the most progressive clubs in European football, leading the way with a highly envied scouting network. Under the leadership of sporting director Monchi, the club has gone from LaLiga SmartBank in 2001 to winning a record six Europa Leagues with players who went on to become world stars. Tune in to any Sevilla match and you’ll catch a glimpse of a future superstar.  

Real Betis, where football is all about joy. ‘Musho Betis,’ as they say. A club which arises passions in Seville, Andalusia and beyond. Betis fans are known to be among the most fervent and ingenious in Spain. This feeling has made its way onto the pitch over the years, and the club have continually boasted some of the most skilful and unpredictable talents in football such as Finidi and Denilson. Today the likes of Joaquin, Canales, Lainez and Emerson follow in those footsteps. Their electric football makes every Real Betis match a true spectacle.  

Real Sociedad’s tiki-taka. The Txuri-urdin are a heavyweight of Spanish football and have taken a giant leap forward in recent years. Thanks to an impressive scouting network and Zubieta, their world-renowned youth academy, they play some of the best football in Europe too. Watching La Real play at their refurbished Reale Arena with talented players like Isak, Oyarzabal, David Silva et al leading a host of talented academy graduates is a joy to behold.  

The ‘Frogs’ of Levante UDLevante are known as Los Granotas thanks to the frogs whose croaks could be heard from the Turia river near their original home in the city of Valencia. But they’ve come a long way since those humble beginnings. They played in Europe in 2012/13 and continue to shock even the biggest sides on a regular basis every single season. They’re yet to finish above their city rivals Valencia CF in the LaLiga table, but all things point to Paco Lopez’s side doing so in the very near future. Undoubtedly a club on the rise.  

A carnival in every match at the Ramon de Carranza. You can’t understand Cadiz CF without understanding its city and people. And vice-versa. If the world-famous Cadiz carnival is a unique explosion of happiness, that same feeling is expressed week in, week out in support of LaLiga’s ‘other’ Yellow Submarine. Credit must go to the incredible work of coach Alvaro Cervera, who has led the team from the third tier to true ‘giant-killer’ status in LaLiga Santander – beating Real Madrid and Barcelona this season – in just five years.   

Las Fallas at Mestalla. Valencia CF are over 100 years old and historically the fourth-most successful club in LaLiga Santander. A club known for its nonconformist, loyal and tireless fans which make Mestalla home to one of the best matchday experiences in world football. And just as in the world-famous Fallas celebrations which take place in the city every year, their style of football is a mix of explosiveness, excitement and unpredictable. An unbeatable combination.   

The Red Wall: Fans are the bedrock of football, and nowhere is this clearer than at CA Osasuna. Rojillos fans hold the record for the loudest crowd ever in LaLiga history, registering a roar of over 115 decibels – a sound louder than a jet engine at take-off – during an unforgettable win over Real Madrid back in 2009. With the club’s El Sadar stadium undergoing an impressive renovation voted on by club members and designed not only to bring the stadium up to cutting-edge standards but to also keep even more sound in – creating a ‘Red Wall’ – Osasuna offer without doubt one of the best matchday experiences in European football.  

D. Alaves, a glorious tradition. There are few fanbases as committed as those at Mendizorrotza, the second-oldest stadium in LaLiga Santander. What’s more, El Glorioso, together with its sister basketball club Saski Baskonia, are the focus of life in the beautiful city of Vitoria. Their run to the unforgettable 2001 UEFA Cup final against Liverpool will live long in the memory of fans around the world. In recent years, the club has been home to many talented players and a springboard for superstars. Look no further than Pacheco, Joselu and Lucas Perez for the current crop of talent.   

Nino, a living legend of LaLiga. At the age of 40, the Elche CF striker is the all-time top scorer in the history of LaLiga SmartBank and the player with the most appearances across the top two tiers in LaLiga history. He continues to impress for his beloved club, in a city which boasts World Heritage sites, well into his third decade of football. A club which has also stolen the hearts of the likes of Saul Ñiguez and David De Gea, which in the 1950s was saved when the players formed their own cooperative to run the club, and which plays at a stadium which at one time boasted the biggest pitch in Europe.  

The arsenal of the Yellow Submarine: A remarkable club which hails from a town so small that half the population fits into its stadium but which at the same time reaches European semi-finals time and time again. Villarreal boast a world-renowned youth academy and a list of former players which include European Golden Boot winners and bona fide legends of the game like Diego Forlan and Juan Roman Riquelme, but perhaps the most exciting thing about the club is its free-scoring current side. Spain’s number nine Gerard Moreno, pass master Dani Parejo, mazy Nigerian winger Samuel Chukwueze and many more undoubtedly make Villarreal one of the most attractive sides in Spain and beyond. 

The hometown heroes of Celta: There’s much to love about Celta. The pride of one of Spain’s most unique regions whose light blue national colours they proudly wear, Los Celestes have European pedigree and play their football just a stone’s throw from the vast, picturesque expanse of the Atlantic Ocean on Spain’s north-western coast. Yet it’s their embrace of their hometown heroes which make Celta so appealing to fans around the world. First team stalwarts such as captain Hugo Mallo, Denis Suarez and Santi Mina were all born in and around the club’s home city of Vigo, but nobody embodies this philosophy more than star striker Iago Aspas, the ‘Magician of Moaña.’ The club legend was born just across the bay from the city and has turned down moves away to commit to his boyhood club time and time again. Now that’s the kind of love that fans around the world can get behind, no matter their club or background.  

Real Valladolid, the ideal mix of tradition and future: The perfect embodiment of tradition and future. 45 seasons in the top flight make Valladolid one of the most established top tier outfits in Spanish football history, while the arrival of living legend Ronaldo Nazario as president in 2018 has seen the club look very much to the future. The club’s famously inhospitable Jose Zorilla stadium, the ‘Pneumonia Stadium’, is also one of the toughest away days in LaLiga, guaranteeing even the biggest sides a stiff challenge.  

The giant killers of Granada: Granada CF are LaLiga’s giant killers, and with good reason. The club from one of Spain’s most iconic and beautiful cities have defied the odds since promotion to the top tier just two seasons ago to consistently challenge in the top half and qualify for continental competition, reaching the Europa League quarter-finals in their first-ever European adventure. With international stars like Roberto Soldado and Luis Suarez leading an exciting attacking line for breakout coach Diego Martinez, Granada are a must watch for football fans everywhere. 

‘Another kind of football is possible’: Hailing from the smallest city to ever be represented in the Spanish top flight, SD Eibar have gone from launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise the necessary funds to compete in LaLiga Santander after promotion in 2014 to establishing themselves as staple of LaLiga Santander in only a few years. The team boast exciting international such as Japan’s Takashi Inui and rising Spanish star Bryan Gil in their ranks while the likes of Xabi Alonso and David Silva have all called the club home in LaLiga in the past. Factor in their Ipurua home nestled deep in the Basque mountains, and you’ve got all the ingredients for one of Europe’s most unique clubs. The idea that “Another kind of football is possible” – the club’s motto – never seemed so real. 

SD Huesca, the club that never retreats. Less than ten years ago, they were playing in front of tiny crowds in the third tier. Today, however, thanks to years of hard work and intelligent management the club boast the likes of Premier League champion Shinji Okazaki and rising star striker Rafa Mir. “Always loyal, never retreat,” the club’s motto, fits this city at the feet of the Pyrenees perfectly. Don’t miss their specially designed captain’s armbands which pay tribute to their rivals each week.   

A high-flying ‘new boy.’ In recent years, Getafe CF have played in Copa del Rey finals and even in UEFA Cup knockout stages against the likes of Bayern Munich. These achievements are impressive in themselves, but even more so when you consider that the club was only founded in 1983! Six consecutive promotions to rise from the regional ranks saw the club, led by president Angel Torres, reach the elite divisions of Spanish football. Getafe is a city famous as the home of one of the oldest military air bases in Spain; its club’s rise to the very top was meteoric, and they’re now flying high despite being LaLiga Santander’s youngest side.   

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Brothers who starred in LaLiga

Having one LaLiga star talent in a family isn’t so common; two (or more) is downright remarkable. Here’s a look at some of the brothers who’ve starred in LaLiga over the years.  

Frank and Ronald De Boer 

The De Boer twins had an extraordinary career. Both Frank and Ronald were part of the iconic Ajax team of the mid-1990s, winning the Champions League in 1995 before moving together to Barcelona, under their former coach Louis van Gaal, in 1999. They won LaLiga Santander that season but their time together in LaLiga lasted just one year. Ronald moved to Rangers after just a season, while Frank remained a mainstay at the Camp Nou until 2003.  

Thiago and Rafinha Alcântara  

Thiago and Rafinha have a famous father in Mazinho, who won the World Cup with Brazil in 1994. He too played in Spain during his career and both of his sons spent much of their childhood in Spain, each passing through the world-famous La Masia academy on their way to reaching the Barça first team. Both have since moved away from Catalonia, though, with older brother Thiago enjoying success at Liverpool and younger brother Rafinha moving from RC Celta to PSG last summer. 

Fernando and Manolo Hierro 

Fernando Hierro is one of the most talented and decorated Spanish players in history, having captained both Real Madrid and Spain throughout his exceptional career. Not many football fans will know, however, that his two older brothers also played in the top tier of Spanish football, though of course without his level of success. Antonio Hierro managed a handful of appearances for Málaga, while Manolo Hierro forged a good career for himself in LaLiga Santander playing for Málaga CF, Real Valladolid, Real Betis and CD Tenerife. Both Fernando and Manolo mostly played at centre-back during their careers and even played in defence together at Valladolid during the 1987/88 season.  

Diego and Gabriel Milito 

Argentine brothers Diego and Gabriel Milito’s footballing relationship was an interesting one from the very start; they came through at rival sides Racing Club de Avellaneda and Independiente, respectively, and made a name for themselves in the late 1990s as two of the most promising young players in Argentine football. In Spain they reunited at Real Zaragoza between 2005 and 2007, both proving to be among the best players in their position in LaLiga (Diego was a centre-forward; Gabriel and centre-back). They later went up against each other again as Gabriel moved to Barcelona in the summer of 2007, while Diego stayed on in Zaragoza for another year before moving to Serie A.   

Lucas and Theo Hernández 

Lucas and Theo Hernández are the sons of former Atlético Madrid player Jean-François Hernandez and both players came through the Atleti academy, emerging as two of the best defenders to come through the ranks in recent years. In 2017, though, Theo shocked Spanish football with a move across the capital to Real Madrid before he’d ever played a competitive fixture for Atleti’s senior side. Nowadays, he is one of the best Serie A stars playing for AC Milan. Lucas, meanwhile, established himself as one of European football’s best full-backs at Atleti, winning the Europa League in 2018 before moving to Bayern Munich in 2019.  

Diego and Hugo Maradona 

Most football fans know about Diego Maradona’s up and down spells in LaLiga, first with Barcelona and later with Sevilla. Yet his younger brother Hugo also spent time in Spain, playing for Rayo Vallecano between 1988 and 1990 while brother Diego was at Napoli. Hugo helped Rayo Vallecano earn promotion to LaLiga Santander in the 1988/89 season, scoring six goals along the way, before the team from Vallecas were relegated back down the very next season.  

Xabi and Mikel Alonso 

Mikel and Xabi Alonso were born to play football and they were born to play for Real Sociedad, the same club their father Periko Alonso played for and coached. Both midfielders, they came through the youth ranks at the same time despite the 18-month age gap between the two; younger brother Xabi was already on the pitch when Mikel made his debut for La Real against Real Valladolid in 2000/01. Mikel’s career never took off in the same way as Xabi’s did, with the younger brother going on to win domestic and European trophies with Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, as well as the World Cup and European Championships with Spain.  

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Europe League: The miracle behind Villarreal CF’s European dream

Editorial column by Marcos Senna a Villarreal CF player between 2002 and 2013 and won Euro 2008 with Spain. Now he works as director of institutional relations at Villarreal CF, a role he has held since 2016, and he is also a LaLiga Ambassador.  

It was April 25th 2006. It was 15 years ago. The events of that night remain clear in my mind. It was the night that we were just two minutes and 12 yards away from defeating a legendary Arsenal side and reaching the final of the Champions League. That was the difference between success and an uncomfortable hangover that lasts for life. Fortunately, football has afforded Villarreal CF the possibility of reaching a new European final. Or, better put, Villarreal CF have earned this opportunity. This is the result of a well-established and sustainable project. That’s the only way to understand how a club from a city of just 50,000 residents has reached its fifth European semi-final of the past 16 seasons. In contrast to teams from big cities like Rome, Manchester, London, Paris or Madrid, the entire population of the city of Vila-Real would fit inside Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, and there would still be 10,000 seats left over! The club’s budget of 117 million euros is smaller than those of all the other ‘superclub’ European semi-finalists. It’s David surrounded by Goliaths.  

I remember when I arrived in Vila-Real for the first time in 2002, having come from the giant urban setting of São Paulo. At the time, the club had only been in Spain’s top division for three seasons, making what we achieved during the 11 years I was there all the more incredible. For context, the first time Villarreal CF won promotion to LaLiga Santander level was in 1998 and Gianluigi Buffon was already an international player with Italy. It wasn’t that long ago, but the club has evolved so much that it’s as if 100 years have passed.  

Fernando Roig, the club’s president, was a visionary and always had things clear in his mind. That’s how Villarreal CF have become an example of intelligent, responsible and honest management in football. All of the club’s players, including the youth team players, have been surrounded by the best possible professionals to assist with their development. For example, there are pioneering programmes in nutrition and psychology. The financial limitations have been countered with a firm backing of the academy, as seen through the club’s two sporting centres and the residency that was recently opened. They also make up ground through excellent recruitment work. Over the years, quality international players have worn the club’s shirt, such as Forlán, Riquelme, Cazorla, Pires, Reina, Bruno Soriano, Capdevila, Godín, Marchena, Rossi, Soldado and Rodri. Then, looking at the current squad, they have Pau Torres, Chukwueze, Bacca, Gerard Moreno, Albiol, Alcácer, Parejo… All of this is part of a project and footballing ethos that doesn’t falter. Even when the club went down to LaLiga SmartBank in 2012, they bounced straight back up. That’s why there is so much satisfaction with the current achievements. It has been built one training session at a time over the past few years. This is a model club that you can be proud of.  

Even though top players like Cazorla, Bruno Soriano or Ekambi departed last year, Villarreal CF are still fighting to reach the Europa League final. They haven’t lost a single match so far in this season’s tournament. At the same time, they’re still battling in LaLiga Santander in the competitive race for fifth place. There’s a need to recognise the efforts of Unai Emery, a winning coach, and of the entire squad. I’m sure that this semi-final tie will be very special for all of them. Against Arsenal, they have an invaluable opportunity to break through the wall and reach a European final for the first time. I think our time has come. It’s time to fight for a title and, I hope, to win one.  

In Spain, there is talk of this being a semi-final of revenge because the opposition is Arsenal, the team of 15 years ago. However, this tie actually goes beyond that. It’s an example of how, with good management, the ‘European dream’ is achievable for any modest club that knows how to embrace the beauty and richness of the football we all know and love, even if the club isn’t one of the continent’s most historic or powerful. And remember, David did defeat Goliath…  

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