Madrid: The manner of the Champions League semi-final exits of Barcelona and Real Madrid have set in motion likely overhauls at both clubs, and is forcing La Liga to re-evaluate itself in the face of a resurgent German Bundesliga. Barcelona were humbled 7-0 on aggregate by German champions Bayern Munich on Wednesday, the day after Real almost overturned their shock 4-1 first leg defeat away to outsiders Borussia Dortmund, to go out 4-3 overall.
Like two ageing and distracted prize-fighters, tired after years of slugging it out between themselves for pre-eminence, Real and Barca have suddenly found themselves outclassed by hungrier and more dynamic opponents. Since the first leg defeats, which prompted headlines of 'Germany 8 Spain 1' there has been much talk of a power-shift eastwards to the Bundesliga in European football.
The quality of football played by both the German teams has caught the eye, with their players appearing fitter and stronger. Spanish media have also noted Bundesliga's strict rules on club finances, greater fan-involvement, lower ticket pricing and the marvellous atmosphere in their stadiums.
One player ideally placed to make a comparison is Bayern Munich's Javi Martinez, a Spanish international who Barca were keen to sign last summer, but who chose instead to head to Bavaria. "I don't know for sure but you can say they are doing a lot of things very well," the 24-year-old midfielder told Spanish broadcaster Canal Plus, when asked if the Bundesliga was better than La Liga.
"The stadiums are always full, all the games at the Allianz Arena are in front of a full crowd. I don't know if it is the best, but it is one of the best two or three." Not only has one of Spain's most talented young players headed to Germany, the architect of Barca's recent success Pep Guardiola is also lined up to replace Jupp Heynckes at Bayern for next season.
The new president of the Spanish football league (LFP) Javier Tebas has come into the post promising to make changes in La Liga targetting tighter controls on club finances, and to tackle the threat of match-fixing. He is also going to tackle the redistribution of TV revenues in Spain where Barca and Real rake in the lion's share leaving many of their rivals on the brink of bankruptcy.
"I believe we have to aspire for a league that is healthy economically, like the Bundesliga, and to try and sell our league like they sell theirs," Tebas told Spanish daily El Pais last weekend. "We have to try and fill the stadiums. At the halfway point of the season attendances were down 3.4 percent, which isn't much. But I am reminding the clubs: we can't maintain prices as they are."
Spanish sport daily As acknowledged Bundesliga's superiority in their Thursday editorial. "Germany are on the up. Barca will win the league and Real could yet win the King's Cup but neither will be happy. Now they need to go back to the drawing board," it said. "It is clearer for Madrid, who will end the (Jose) Mourinho project. It is harder for Barca. Is Tito (Vilanova) up for this or not?"
Mourinho dropped his strongest hint yet that he was considering leaving Real after their third consecutive Champions League semi-final exit with Chelsea his most likely destination, despite him having a contract at the Bernabeu until 2016. In the local media, Paris St Germain boss Carlo Ancelotti headed the list of possible replacements.
At Barcelona, who are closing on their fourth La Liga title in five years, there was a greater resistance to change. Coach Vilanova said the team just needed their injured players, such as Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano, to recover while president Sandro Rosell sought to deflect attention.
"I don't think you can say we are doing things badly in Spain," he told Canal Plus. "Two of the four best teams in Europe were from Spain. Maybe you should ask that question in England, France or Italy." The truth is, however, that Barca's squad has looked very thin, with most of the players agreeing that they had reached the end of the campaign stretched to the limit.
"First we need to win La Liga and after that will be the moment to think," defender Gerard Pique told reporters. "The people in charge of finding new players will need to get to work. We have seen a (Bayern) team far superior to us and we need to work to try and get back to how we were before.