Ballon d`Or a triumph for Spain, but is La Liga the best?
Zurich: The awards gala for the Ballon d`Or can be seen as a fiesta for Spanish football.
Not only do all the three finalists for the prestigious Ballon d`Or -- Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta -- play in the Spanish Primera Liga -- they play for either FC Barcelona or Real Madrid -- the 11 players named in the ideal team of 2012 all play in Spain.
Meanwhile Vicente del Bosque, named the best coach of the year, is the coach of the Spanish national team, while the other two nominees, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are the current Real Madrid and former Barca coach in turn.
There can be no question that the right decision was made in giving Messi a historic fourth Ballon d`Or, it is hard to argue against the merits of someone who scored 91 goals in the calendar year. In any other era Ronaldo and Iniesta would have had a fighting chance of the prize, but Messi`s merits are simply impossible to ignore.
Del Bosque, meanwhile, was named best coach after taking the Spanish national team to glory in the 2012 European Championships last summer, adding that title to the 2010 World Cup Spain won two years ago.
Outside of Spain, perhaps the fact that every player in the ideal 11 plays in the Liga is what has attracted most comment, especially in England, where the Barclays Premier League is considered to be the most attractive competition.
However, a closer look at the FIFpro list shows us that 10 of those players: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso play for Real Madrid, while Messi, Dani Alves, Xavi Hernandez, Gerard Pique and Iniesta are at Barca. Only Atletico Madrid`s Radamel Falcao broke the hegemony of the two biggest clubs in Spain, two clubs which enjoy the benefits of an unbalanced distribution of TV earnings and earn more than four and half times more money from that source than the third biggest earner.
Real Madrid and Barcelona between them take around 50 percent of Spain`s TV money leaving the remaining clubs to divide the rest between them.
They have finished first and second in Spain for the past three years and while Atletico are currently hanging in to second place this season, they are still 11 points off league leaders Barca and Falaco`s continuity in the side next season looks doubtful as big spending clubs (among them Real Madrid) form a queue to sign the Colombian striker.
Watching Barca, who are simply light years ahead of any other side in Spain this season, is a joy, but the result is hardly ever in doubt, while games between lesser clubs can be dull and tedious.
Given these circumstances and the fact that neither reached the Champions League final in 2012, losing to Chelsea and Bayern Munich, it is true to say they are the best clubs in Spain.
Despite their European defeats they could be the best sides in Europe, although it remains to be seen in Real Madrid will be able to turn their poor domestic campaign around on the European stage.
However, to take the step and say that the Spanish league is the best in the world might still be a step too far.