If you’ve been following Spanish football in recent years, you’ll already know that La Liga is a league dominated by only two teams: Real Madrid and Barcelona. The El Clasico rivals have won the Spanish top flight a staggering 62 times between them, which equates to well over half of all league titles.
However, there have been a few seasons where other teams have broken through and clinched the top spot, and this season, the same could happen again.
Rise of Girona
This season, the talking point of not just Spanish but European football as a whole has been the rise of Girona. The Catalonian outfit has only spent three full seasons in La Liga throughout their entire history, two of which came just over five years ago and the third was last season. Then, they finished tenth however this year, they are joint top alongside the heavyweight Los Blancos.
The Blanquivermells are attempting to embark on a Leicester City-like triumph, toppling their more illustrious rivals despite being relegation contenders and rank outsiders before the campaign got underway. Prior to their matchday 19 clash at home to Atletico Madrid, the bookmakers made them a 2.65 underdog. The reputable websites that offer live betting also made them the underdog at halftime, when Alvaro Morata’s hat trick tied things up 3-3.
However, a last gasp 91st minute Ivan Martin goal secured yet another shock victory for the home side, and now the bookies are beginning to consider them as genuine contenders.
Whether they can stay the course – like the Foxes did in England back in 2016 – remains to be seen. However, if they do, they’ll be following in the footsteps of these four. Here are the last four teams to win La Liga other than the country’s big two.
The first team on our list is Atletico Madrid, the team that Girona most recently knocked off and who won La Liga three times in the last 25 years. The most recent triumph came in the 2020/21 season when Los Rojiblancos edged out Real Madrid and Barcelona to clinch the title. The team was led by maverick head coach and former captain Diego Simeone, as well as talismanic veteran striker Luis Suarez, who scored 21 goals after being brought in for a paltry fee from Barca at the start of the campaign.
But that triumph was a little more expected than the one that came before it back in 2014. Back then, Atleti weren’t the team that they are today. They were assembled on a shoestring budget, with a bunch of veterans and journeymen such as captain and midfield dynamo Gabi. As well as that, they had a staunch defense consisting of Diego Godin and Miranda. Simeone cultivated a team spirit that was willing to die to get three points and it worked, leading the club to a first title in almost 20 years.
Next up, we have Valencia, who have won La Liga six times in their history. Two of those titles came in the early 2000s with near-consecutive triumphs in the 2001/02 and 2003/04 seasons. The team during that period was coached by Rafael Benitez, who would later go on to inspire the Miracle of Istanbul, winning the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool despite being 3-0 down at halftime to AC Milan.
Valencia’s squad featured stars like Pablo Aimar, Ruben Baraja, and Roberto Ayala, who were crucial in winning these titles. Unfortunately, Los Ches has struggled in recent years and has not come close to winning La Liga since their last triumph, instead looking over their shoulders at the possibility of relegation courtesy of a dire financial situation.
Deportivo La Coruna
The third team on our list is Deportivo La Coruna, who surprised everyone by winning La Liga in the 1999/00 season, breaking a run of dominance by Real Madrid and Barcelona. Deportivo’s squad was led by Brazilian striker Bebeto, who scored 20 goals in the league, and Spanish midfielder Fran, who had 11 assists. The team was coached by Javier Irureta, who is still revered by Deportivo fans for his role in the title-winning season. Unfortunately, Deportivo has since struggled, and they now find themselves in the doldrums of Spanish football, specifically the fourth tier.
Last but not least, we have Athletic Bilbao, who won La Liga twice in the early 1980s with back-to-back titles in the 1982/83 and 1983/84 seasons. Athletic Bilbao is unique in that they only field players who are born or raised in the Basque Country, which is a region in northern Spain. The team was coached by Javier Clemente and featured stars like Jesus Maria Zamora, Julio Salinas, and Jose Angel Iribar.
There was even a Hollywood connection as the club’s president during that period was actor Antxon Eceiza. Unfortunately, Athletic Bilbao has not won a trophy since their back-to-back titles, but they remain a beloved club in Spanish football.