Whilst it may seem as though Barcelona and Real Madrid have joint ownership of the league title in Spain, the reality is that, from time to time, other teams do get a look in and claim the top spot. In fact, over the years, 9 different teams have actually been crowned Spain’s best team. Of course, the ‘Big 2’ will always be there or thereabouts, and invariably, no more than a year or so will go by without one of them re-claiming the prize – their might and financial muscle will see to that. But let’s take a look at those seasons in (fairly) recent history, when the championship found its way elsewhere.
Atletico Madrid (2013-14)
Atletico’s season in 13-14 will live long in the memory of fans from the ‘other’ Madrid team. Led by volatile manager Diego Simeone, the side had been getting closer for a few years, securing Champions League spots, claiming Europa League success as well as enjoying the services of a slew of devastating strikers. Not only did Atletico trade blows with Real and Barca throughout the season, they were also making a stir in the Champions League as they slowly progressed through the group stages before a stunning knock-out of Barcelona in the quarter-finals made everyone stand up and take notice. In the league they shared top spot with their big 2 rivals throughout, never going away when most expected them to slip. With a 3 point lead over Barca at the top, fate would dictate that in the final match of the season Atletico would have to travel to Camp Nou to face Barcelona on their home patch. A loss, as most expected, would have meant a heart-breaking fall at the last. And when the hosts took a first half lead, that prospect grew ever more likely.
However, a stunning headed equaliser from Godin early in the second half brought that dream a little closer with Simeone’s men showing their title credentials to the last to hold on, claim the draw and their first league title of this century.
Ok, so we have to trawl back a further decade to find the next famous title win, but Valencia’s victory on 2004 marked the end of a glorious era for Spain’s ‘3rd’ club. Under the guidance of Rafa Benitez, Valencia had become a team with a tough to beat core and some real quality throughout in the form of Baraja, Mista, Vincente and Aimar. However, with 12 games to go in the season, their title aspirations were hanging by a thread with Real Madrid storming ahead in the league. However, things wold rapidly alter as Real’s form began to falter as Valencia applied the pressure, going on a long unbeaten run to cut the lead then forge to the top of the table, claiming a stunning league and UEFA Cup double before Benitez bid farewell to head to England.
Benitez’ men also reached the pinnacle of Spanish football two years earlier in a season that will live long in the memory of all Valencia fans. Having blazed to the higher regions of the league with a remarkable 11 match winning streak Valencia were in contention throughout the season. Following a famous 3-2 over Espanyol (coming from 2-0 down) Valencia continued to apply pressure to the big guns ahead of them and, hit the front going into the stretch. Their final match of the season, against Malaga, is a day long remembered as they secured a 2-0 victory to claim their 5th title ever and their first for 31 years.
Deportivo La Coruna (1999-00)
The end of the twentieth century saw a new team hit the top of the pile in Spain with relative minnows Deportivo marking the golden point it their history with a solitary league title win – the second smallest (in terms of town size) team to ever claim the crown.
Having assembled a strong and skilful squad in the previous seasons Deportivo had been getting closer to the title for a number of seasons and, with a blend of tight defence and fast attacking football everything clicked into place for one glorious season, storming to the title by 5 points ahead of Valencia and Barcelona for the most famous year in the club’s history.