La Liga’s top three has a familiar look about it. Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid occupy the top spots in Spain’s top flight, illustrating the dominance they hold over the game in the country. However, below that there is a small club revolution occurring.
It can be found the success of three small clubs in particular this season – Eibar, Getafe and Girona. They hold three of the places in La Liga’s top 10, with the former and the latter particularly impressive. Indeed, Eibar and Girona are impressing to such an extent that they have their sights set on European football. They could be Europa League clubs by next season.
The fact that these clubs are even in La Liga is remarkable. As recently as 2012 Eibar, a tiny club from a town of just 27,000 inhabitants, found themselves slumped in the third tier of the Spanish game. They were lower league fodder, purely making up the numbers, as many people saw it.
Back-to-back promotions saw them rise through the divisions, though. Now, Eibar are a permanent La Liga fixture, with Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side hosting Real Madrid at their 6,000-capacity stadium this weekend. What’s more, they could stand a chance against Ernesto Valverde’s La Liga pace-setters given Eibar’s recent form. Until just a couple weeks ago, only Barca and Atletico Madrid boasted a better record than the Basque side in 2018.
Girona have followed a different trajectory to the top, with Manchester City playing a part in the rise of the Catalan club. Pep Guardiola’s brother, Pere Guardiola, is their majority shareholder and they have a number of players on loan from the Etihad Stadium this season. Their story isn’t quite a fairytale, given their billionaire backers, but nonetheless they are a small club punching well above their weight.
And then there’s Getafe, who have flown under the radar for the most part. Not so long ago, the club located on the outskirts of Madrid were struggling in Spain’s second tier. They might not come with as romantic a tale as either Eibar or Girona, but their achievement in making their position in the top half of the La Liga table shouldn’t be understated.
Last season, Alaves made the final of the Copa del Rey, with Leganes knocking out Real Madrid on their way to the competition’s semi-finals this season. Make no mistake, Spanish football is still dominated by the giants, but the minnows below are making an impression like never before. There has been a movement.
In years gone by, Spanish football has been derided and belittled for its perceived lack of depth past the top three, or maybe top four if Sevilla are included. Such detractors might be tempted to use the success of Eibar, Getafe and Girona as evidence to their point. But that is too simplistic an argument.
It’s probably true that clubs like these wouldn’t be able to rise to the top of the Premier League like they have in La Liga. The glass ceiling in English football would prevent them from getting so far, from upsetting the natural order, but this glass ceiling is related to finance rather than the actual quality of play.
Eibar and Getafe, in particular, have no real financial backing to speak of. Their progress has come as a result of good coaching, good recruitment and the harnessing of local communities. In many ways, their success is something of a throwback to the way things used to be, perhaps to the way things should be. They haven’t bought their success. Paulo Oliviera became Eibar’s most expensive signing ever last summer and he cost just €3.5 million.
Eibar, Getafe and Girona might not grab as many headlines as the likes of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, but they have become the epitome of what is great, and what should be cherished, about Spanish football. There is a small club revolution happening in one of the best leagues in the world. That deserves a headline.