It had been a long wait. Real Madrid reclaimed La Liga on Wednesday following a three-year hiatus to end a period of domestic dominance by Barcelona. For Jose Mourinho, it was a second trophy in Spain after capturing the Copa del Rey last term.
But this one meant much more as winning the championship is widely considered to be a true indicator of which team is the best around. So as Mourinho looks to build on his significant success and Pep Guardiola walks away from the Catalan club, could we be witnessing a shift in power in Spain?
Football, it is often said, moves in cycles. In Spain, that usually means Madrid or Barcelona are in control, especially in recent years when the other sides have been unable to compete financially with the country’s top two.
But history has shown that one side cannot control La Liga for more than a few years at a time: Madrid won five titles in a row with the Quinta del Buitre between 1986 and 1990, for example, before Barca claimed four on the spin with Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team shortly afterwards. Eventually, however, those cycles are brought to an end.
Guardiola had hoped to emulate his former coach by winning four consecutive crowns for the Catalan club, but the 41-year-old saw his side fall at the final fence, losing out to a Madrid outfit with more hunger and greater strength in depth over the course of the current campaign. With 115 goals so far and the possibility of reaching 100 points this term, Mourinho’s men are worthy winners in 2011-12.
But what happens next?
Barcelona believe they have found the ready-made replacement for Guardiola in his assistant Tito Vilanova. Like Pep before him, Tito lacks experience at the very highest level, but having accompanied his friend and former Barca B team-mate over the last four seasons, he will know exactly what he has to work with.
GUARDIOLA THE GREAT
(2008 - 2012 )
3 La Liga titles
2 Champions Leagues
2 World Club Cup
1 Copa del Rey
2 Uefa Super Cup
3 Spanish Supercopas
The momentum, however, will be with Mourinho’s Madrid after the Portuguese masterminded the club’s first title since 2008.
And when his sides start winning, that’s usually an ominous sign for their rivals. Mourinho has already signalled his intentions to stay for a third term in Spain and will set his sights on winning the Champions League for Madrid, as well as a second successive Liga title.
Barca’s first-choice side arguably remains stronger than Madrid’s starting XI, but with Carles Puyol and Xavi in their twilight years and David Villa yet to return from a broken leg, reinforcements are likely to be needed for the Catalans ahead of the coming campaign.
Much will also depend on their ability to ensure a smooth transition between Guardiola and Vilanova, as well as Tito’s success in the transfer market and motivation techniques.
The new coach is tactically astute and has been praised by his players but he lacks the personality of Pep and it remains to be seen whether he can enjoy similar success.
MOURINHO THE MASTER (2010 - )
1 La Liga title
1 Copa del Rey
Madrid, meanwhile, possess a stronger squad and also boast a younger team than Barca. Changes in tax laws in Spain have seen income tax rise to over 50 per cent for the top earners under new prime minister Mariano Rajoy and it is thought that increase could see Real struggle to hang on to their star players, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, although the Portuguese is unlikely to move on after his side’s Liga success and the possibility of further silverware at Madrid next season.
Perhaps more importantly, though, they have Mourinho, still the master and now in his element after instilling a winning mindset at Real in a second season which he had always promised would be better than his first.
Change of cycle? It’s too early to say but as Madrid grow in stature following their Liga success and Barca struggle to come to terms with the loss of Guardiola, don’t bet against it.