Spain continues to lead the soccer world

By Mike Woitalla

In the starting lineups for the Champions League semifinal deciders, Manchester City fielded one Englishman, Real Madrid four Spaniards, Bayern Munich four Germans and Atletico Madrid five Spaniards.

Among the four teams’ starters in the second-leg semifinals, Spain was best represented. In addition to the nine from the Madrid teams, Bayern Munich started two Spaniards and Manchester City one.

The 44 starters in the two games hailed from these nations:
12 Spain
6 Brazil
5 Germany
4 France
3 Argentina
2 Belgium, Uruguay
1 Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, England, Poland, Portugal, Ivory Coast, Slovenia, Wales.

It’s remarkable that England’s most successful Champions League team started zero English field players -- it’s lone English starter in the loss to Real Madrid was goalkeeper Joe Hart -- but perhaps not surprising as the English Premier League fields more foreign players than any of Europe’s Big 5 leagues.

Foreign Player Percentage
69% English Premier League
56% Italian Serie A
50% German Bundesliga
48% French Ligue 1
42% Spanish La Liga
Source: TransferMarkt

Spain attracts many of the world’s greatest players -- such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Neymar -- but provides more opportunities to homegrown players than the other leagues. And Spain is second only to France in exporting players to top European leagues.

This year’s Champions League final is a rematch of the Atletico Madrid-Real Madrid final of 2014 that Real won. With Barcelona’s wins in 2009, 2011 and 2015, the last five out of eight Champions League titles will have been won by La Liga teams.

This year’s Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup) semifinals also featured two Spanish teams. Sevilla, which beat Shakhtar Donetsk, and is aiming for its third straight title, and Villarreal, which fell to Liverpool. Six of the last 10 Europa League titles were won by Spanish clubs and Sevilla could make it seven out of the last 11.

Spain, of course, has been the most successful national team over the last decade, European Championship titles in 2008 and 2012 sandwiching a 2010 World Cup title. (Spain also won the 2011 and 2013 U-21 European Championships and three of the last five U-19 European Championships.)

An aging Spain team exited in the first round of the 2014 World Cup but it rebounded to win nine of its 10 games while outscoring its foes 23-3 in route to qualifying for this summer’s European Championship in France.

While it's been an age-old debate on whether too many foreign players in a league create a negative impact on the development of domestic players, La Liga seems to have found the right balance.

16 comments about "Spain continues to lead the soccer world".
  1. Ric Fonseca, May 6, 2016 at 6:45 p.m.

    The above stats are simply surprising and startling, indeed what with Latin america is well represented as well in La Liga, so bottom line is that they seem to be doing something right! As for the Good Old Jolly UK.... ay-ay-ay, que pasa?, Oh, I get it, they send us (to MLS) their old and over the hill veteranos.

  2. David V, May 6, 2016 at 7:15 p.m.


    (Ric, don't want to make this about you, but I disagree with you completely)....

    This is not surprising at all! ... but good point about Jolly ole' UK... why the US continues to fawn over English football (and why you would in the first place anyway), is a mystery to me. They got lucky 50 years ago this year, that's about it. Loved Paul Gardner's comments the other day at SA about England being 50 years behind.

  3. Vince Leone, May 6, 2016 at 11:27 p.m.

    Before this article came out I came up with the following tally:

    Spain: 14
    Brazil: 6
    France: 5
    Argentina: 3
    Germany: 3
    Belgium: 2
    Austria: 1
    Chile: 1
    Costa Rica: 1
    Croatia: 1
    England: 1
    Montenegro: 1
    Poland: 1
    Portugal: 1
    Slovenia: 1
    Uruguay: 1
    Wales: 1

    Not sure if I'm right or Mike is, but if I am it emphasizes Spanish dominance even more. I was also surprised about the small number of Germans.

  4. Vince Leone, May 6, 2016 at 11:32 p.m.

    Something Mike doesn't mention is the style of play in La Liga--skill and tactics are emphasized over speed and physicality. It seems that those qualities tend to dominate over bigger/stronger/faster players once the competition reaches a certain level.

  5. David V, May 8, 2016 at 11:27 a.m.

    Of course, speed of play is faster than the speed of a player... (we've all heard "what's faster, your dribble or the your pass?") Of course David Villa was fast (Europe's most wanted in the end of the last decade) and Fernando Torres (while never being the caliber of Villa, contrary to what is known only those who know Brit futbol because they saw FT at Liverpool) was a pretty fast and powerful guy, so is Sergio Ramos... but technical and tactical speed of play certainly dominated/dominate

  6. David V, May 8, 2016 at 11:27 a.m.

    Barça, Atletico de Madrid, Real Madrid can win La Liga...

    Barça, Sevilla can win the Copa del Rey...

    Atletico, Real Madrid can win the Champions League...

    Sevilla can win the Europa League...

  7. David V, May 9, 2016 at 2:17 a.m.

    All American, good points... Spain truly is the country to emulate

  8. Phil Love, May 9, 2016 at 9:19 a.m.

    Here's another way to break this down:
    12 Spain
    9 Europe - not Spain, Ger., Fra.
    6 Brazil
    6 Rest of S. America
    5 Germany
    4 France
    1 Africa
    1 CONCACAF (a GK)
    0 Asia
    0 Oceania
    I think one could use this as part of an argument against an expanded World Cup.

  9. David V, May 9, 2016 at 11:38 a.m.

    No, All American, you misunderstood the article... go back and re-read it, it is NOT counting what country or league they play in, it is talking about nationals and where they play... also, you don't get to lump SA as a country, else, you'd have to lump Europe as a country... Messi, Suarez, Neymar may all come from one continent, but they don't count as one country... so if you want to talk about countries being destroyed in the last world cup, that lets out Brazil right? ... Spain is the main, what you say sounds insane and you've missed the train...please don't be vain. Just punning, you, no disdain.

  10. David V, May 9, 2016 at 6:14 p.m.

    Best league has always been Spain; the fact that, in a sporting sense, their national team got over some internal political differences made the national team performances consistent with what they've always had. Can you imagine if in Brazil they only picked a squad from Corinthians, or a squad from Santos, or a squad from Minais Gerais? That's essentially what Spain did for their history until the last 10to 15 years.

  11. David V, May 9, 2016 at 6:20 p.m.

    FIRE PAUL... has some great comments, AND....ALSO, Spain were not at their prime in 2013 at the confed cup... Spain were at their prime in 2008 or 2009... true, they are the undisputed highest achieving/best single team in history (that golden age of Spanish futbol from FALL 2006 [most people don't realize that is when their dominance started] to about 2013 (aforementioned Euro-WC-Euro run, longest undefeated streak in history, the have the likes of Pele saying they were better than his Brazil '70 team, and Tostao the same, and many others, but during this streak, you have teams for 6 years fearful and hiding, playing anti-football with 11 men behind the ball (it's the other fearful anti-football teams that made some of the games boring, not the Spaniards - can you imagine Babe Ruth called boring because all of the pitchers he faced would walk him every single time he came to the plate? That's a somewhat similar analogy), you have guys like Cruyff telling Van Marwijk (sp?) that Holland cannot possibly beat Spain (so they resorted to thuggery)... but to finish the original point, they were actually at their prime in 2008 or 2009 and on the decline by the 2010 WC... the fact that they were still superior in 2010 just is a testament to how above the rest of the world they were prior to the beginning of the decline...

    Also, All American, you said "To claim a country is the best you would have to envision their best teams playing with non foreign players. Brazil Argentina club teams would destroy Spanish teams if they kept their best" ... well guess what, that's what a national team is, and they slammed the world for nearly 8 years... Lio couldn't do anything about it, neither could Masche, or Neymar... Brazil got hammered by the Dutch in 2010

    Lastly, Brazil really hasn't been that Brazil the world fell in love with in the 50s and 60s since the early 80s... we loved Pele, Didi, Vava, Zagalo, GARRINCHA (the man!), tostao, Zico, Rivelino, Clodoaldo, Carlos Aberto, the Santos boys (the last name, not the club)... yes, there have been a few sparks (Ronaldo and little Ronaldo) but Brazil is NOT the beautiful caliber and quality it once was and it hasn't been for decades

  12. David V, May 9, 2016 at 6:21 p.m.

    which country has won the, now called, Champions League the most?

  13. ROBERT BOND, May 10, 2016 at 9:17 a.m.

    this is what made Pep successful...

  14. David V, May 10, 2016 at 10:39 a.m.

    Sure, Pep had Lio, but RM had Ronaldo... Barça, the key to pep... Best midfield trio the world has ever seen... 1. Xavi, 2. Iniesta, 3. Busquests... add in 4. Puyol and 5. Pique in the back, and 6. Villa and 7. Pedro at the front, and 8. Victor Valdes (8 Spaniards on the best club team ever... 2010-2011), well DiStefano, Gento and Puskas may have something to say about that.

  15. David V, May 10, 2016 at 12:13 p.m.

    Ummmm, when you put Messi with Argentina, and the rest of his compadres... the best they have done in Messi's career is Argentina #2 WC. Neymar, crashes out way early with the rest of his compadres.

  16. David V, May 14, 2016 at 9:45 a.m.

    La Liga decided today, 11:00 EDT... BeIn sports... RM on English Side, and Barca on Spanish side - language wise. YES, 3 spanish teams in the top two European finals. Don't expect Spain to do well at this year's Euros... too many Spain teams playing so many late games. Champions' League final coming up in two weeks... Atletico de Madrid vs. Real Madrid

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