The Primera División,[a] commonly known as La Liga[b] and as La Liga Santander for sponsorship reasons with Santander, is the top professional association football division of the Spanish football league system. Administrated by the Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP), La Liga is contested by 20 teams, with the three lowest-placed teams relegated to the Segunda División and replaced by the top two teams in that division plus the winner of a play-off.
A total of 62 teams have competed in La Liga since its inception. Nine teams have been crowned champions, with Real Madrid winning the title a record 33 times and Barcelona 24 times. After Athletic Bilbao claimed several titles in the league's early years, Real Madrid dominated the championship from the 1950s through to the 1980s, when Athletic and neighbours Real Sociedad each won the league twice. From the 1990s onwards, Barcelona (14 titles) and Real Madrid (9 titles) were both prominent, though La Liga also saw other champions, including Atlético Madrid, Valencia, and Deportivo de La Coruña. In the 2010s, Atlético Madrid became increasingly strong, forming a trio alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona which occupied the podium places exclusively.
According to UEFA's league coefficient, La Liga has been the top league in Europe over the last five years and has led Europe for more years (13) than any other country. It has also produced the continent's top-rated club more times (20) than any other league, more than double that of second-placed Serie A. Its clubs have won the most UEFA Champions League (17), UEFA Europa League (10), UEFA Super Cup (14), and FIFA Club World Cup (6) titles, and its players have accumulated the highest number of (FIFA) Ballon d'Or awards (19).
La Liga is one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the world, with an average attendance of 26,741 for league matches in the 2014–15 season. This is the sixth-highest of any domestic professional sports league in the world and the fourth-highest of any professional association football league in the world, behind the Bundesliga, the Premier League, and the Indian Super League.
The competition format follows the usual double round-robin format. During the course of a season, which lasts from August to May, each club plays every other club twice, once at home and once away, for a total of 38 matchdays. Teams receive three points for a win, one point for a draw, and no points for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points, with the highest-ranked club at the end of the season crowned champion.
A system of promotion and relegation exists between the Primera División and the Segunda División. The three lowest placed teams in La Liga are relegated to the Segunda División, and the top two teams from the Segunda División promoted to La Liga, with an additional club promoted after a series of play-offs involving the third, fourth, fifth and sixth placed clubs. Below is a complete record of how many teams played in each season throughout the league's history;
If points are equal between two or more clubs, the rules are:
The top teams in La Liga qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The first, second, third and fourth placed teams directly enter the group stage of UEFA Champions League. Teams placed fifth and sixth play in the UEFA Europa League, along with the cup winners. If both teams in the cup final finish in the top six, an additional berth in the Europa League is given to the team that finishes in seventh.
In April 1929, José María Acha, a director at Arenas Club de Getxo, first proposed the idea of a national league in Spain. After much debate about the size of the league and who would take part, the Real Federación Española de Fútbol eventually agreed on the ten teams who would form the first Primera División in 1929. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Arenas Club de Getxo and Real Unión were all selected as previous winners of the Copa del Rey. Atlético Madrid, Espanyol and Europa qualified as Copa del Rey runners-up and Racing de Santander qualified through a knockout competition. Only three of the founding clubs, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao, have never been relegated from the Primera División.
Although Barcelona won the very first Liga in 1929 and Real Madrid won their first titles in 1932 and 1933, it was Athletic Bilbao that set the early pace winning Primera División in 1930, 1931, 1934 and 1936. They were also runners-up in 1932 and 1933. In 1935, Real Betis, then known as Betis Balompié, won their only title to date. Primera División was suspended during the Spanish Civil War.
In 1937, the teams in the Republican area of Spain, with the notable exception of the two Madrid clubs, competed in the Mediterranean League and Barcelona emerged as champions. Seventy years later, on 28 September 2007, Barcelona requested the RFEF to recognise that title as a Liga title. This action was taken after RFEF was asked to recognise Levante FC's Copa de la España Libre win as equivalent to Copa del Rey trophy. Nevertheless, the governing body of Spanish football has not made an outright decision yet.
When the Primera División resumed after the Spanish Civil War, it was Atlético Aviación (nowadays Atlético Madrid), Valencia, and Sevilla that initially emerged as the strongest clubs. Atlético were only awarded a place during the 1939–40 season as a replacement for Real Oviedo, whose ground had been damaged during the war. The club subsequently won their first Liga title and retained it in 1941. While other clubs lost players to exile, execution, and as casualties of the war, the Atlético team was reinforced by a merger. The young, pre-war squad of Valencia had also remained intact and in the post-war years matured into champions, gaining three Liga titles in 1942, 1944, and 1947. They were also runners-up in 1948 and 1949. Sevilla also enjoyed a brief golden era, finishing as runners-up in 1940 and 1942 before winning their only title to date in 1946. By the latter part of the decade, Barcelona began to emerge as a force when they were crowned champions in 1945, 1948 and 1949.
Although Atlético Madrid, previously known as Atlético Aviación, were champions in 1950 and 1951 under catenaccio mastermind Helenio Herrera, the 1950s saw the beginning of the Barcelona/Real Madrid dominance. During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, there were strict limits imposed on foreign players. In most cases, clubs could only have three foreign players in their squads, meaning that at least eight local players had to play in every game. During the 1950s, however, these rules were circumvented by Real Madrid and Barcelona, who naturalized Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás, and László Kubala. Inspired by Kubala, Barça won the title in 1952 and 1953. Di Stéfano, Puskás, Raymond Kopa and Francisco Gento formed the nucleus of the Real Madrid team that dominated the second half of the 1950s. Madrid won the first division for the first time as Real Madrid in 1954 and retained its title in 1955. They were winners again in 1957 and 1958, with only Athletic Bilbao interrupting their sequence. During this period, Real Madrid also won an unprecedented five consecutive European Cups. Barcelona, with a team coached by Helenio Herrera and featuring Luis Suárez, won the title in 1959 and 1960.
Between 1961 and 1980, Real Madrid dominated the Primera División, being crowned champions 14 times, although their only European Cup triumph during this era came in 1966, a sharp contrast to their five successive victories in the competition starting with the first final in 1956.
This included a five-in-a-row sequence from 1961 to 1965 and two three-in-a-row sequences (1967–1969 and 1978–1980). During this era, only Atlético Madrid offered Real Madrid any serious challenge, adding four more titles to their tally in 1966, 1970, 1973, and 1977. Of the other clubs, only Valencia in 1971 and the Johan Cruyff-inspired Barcelona of 1974 managed to break the dominance of Real Madrid.
The Madrid winning sequence was ended more significantly in 1981 when Real Sociedad won their first-ever title. They retained it in 1982 and their two in a row was followed by another by their fellow Basques Athletic Bilbao, who won back-to-back titles in 1983 and 1984. Terry Venables led Barcelona to a solitary title in 1985 before Real Madrid won again another five in a row sequence (1986–1990) with a team guided by Leo Beenhakker and including Hugo Sánchez and the legendary La Quinta del Buitre – Emilio Butragueño, Manolo Sanchís, Martín Vázquez, Míchel and Miguel Pardeza.
Johan Cruyff returned to Barcelona as manager in 1988, and assembled the legendary Dream Team. Cruyff introduced players like Pep Guardiola, José Mari Bakero, Txiki Begiristain, Andoni Goikoetxea, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Romário and Hristo Stoichkov. This team won Primera División four times between 1991 and 1994 and won the European Cup in 1992. Laudrup then moved to arch-rivals Real Madrid, and helped them end Barcelona's run in 1995. Atlético Madrid won their ninth Primera División title in 1996 before Real Madrid added another Liga trophy to their cabinet in 1997. After the success of Cruyff, another Dutchman – Ajax manager Louis van Gaal – arrived at the Camp Nou, and with the talents of Luís Figo, Luis Enrique, and Rivaldo, Barcelona again won the title in 1998 and 1999.
As Primera División entered a new century, the Big Two of Real Madrid and Barcelona found themselves facing new challengers. Between 1993 and 2004, Deportivo La Coruña finished in the top three on ten occasions, a better record than either Real Madrid or Barcelona, and in 2000, under Javier Irureta, they became the ninth team to be crowned champions. Real Madrid won two more Liga titles in 2001 and 2003 and also the UEFA Champions League in 2000 and 2002, and won their 30th league title in 2007 after a three-year drought. They were challenged by a re-emerging Valencia in both competitions. Under the management of Héctor Cúper, Valencia finished as Champions League runners-up in 2000 and 2001. His successor, Rafael Benítez, built on this and led the club to a Liga title in 2002 and winning the double with a league title and the UEFA Cup in 2004. The 2004–05 season saw a resurgent Barcelona, inspired by the brilliant Ronaldinho, win their first title of the new century, in addition to the Liga-Champions League double in 2005–06. With world-class players like Raúl, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Gonzalo Higuaín, Real Madrid won back-to-back La Liga titles in 2006–07 and 2007–08 season. Under Pep Guardiola's Dream Team, powered by La Masia talents such as Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, Barcelona added three straight Liga titles (2008–09, 2009–10 and 2010–11).
In the 2011–12 season, Real Madrid won its 32nd title under the management of José Mourinho with a record-breaking points tally of 100, a record 121 number of goals scored, most overall (32) and away (16) wins in a single season in La Liga history. Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova matched the 100-point record a year later in 2012–13 while battling terminal cancer. Atlético Madrid won the 2013–14 title, their first in 18 years, and the first title in ten years that Real Madrid or Barcelona had not won. Barcelona won the 2014–15 season as well as the 2015–16 season resulting in 6 titles in 8 years. Real Madrid have brought back the La Liga title under the management of Zinedine Zidane for the 2016–17 season.
A total of 20 teams contest the league in its current season, including the top 17 sides from the 2016–17 season and three promoted from the 2016–17 Segunda División. These are two clubs promoted directly from that division (Levante and Girona), and the winner of the play-offs, Getafe.
|Athletic Bilbao||Bilbao||San Mamés||53,289|
|Atlético Madrid||Madrid||Wanda Metropolitano||68,000|
|Deportivo La Coruña||A Coruña||Abanca-Riazor||32,912|
|Getafe||Getafe||Coliseum Alfonso Pérez||17,000|
|Las Palmas||Las Palmas||Gran Canaria||33,111|
|Levante||Valencia||Ciutat de València||26,354|
|Real Betis||Seville||Benito Villamarín||60,720|
|Real Madrid||Madrid||Santiago Bernabéu||81,044|
|Real Sociedad||San Sebastián||Anoeta||32,000|
|Sevilla||Seville||Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán||42,714|
|Villarreal||Villarreal||Estadio de la Cerámica||24,890|
The Primera División is currently first in the UEFA rankings of European leagues based on their performances in European competitions over a five-year period, ahead of Germany's Bundesliga ,England's Premier League and Italy's Serie A in fourth.
Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia are in the top ten most successful clubs in European football in terms of total European trophies. These three clubs, along with Sevilla and Atlético Madrid, are five of the most successful teams in European competition history; these five are the only Spanish clubs to have won five or more international trophies. Deportivo La Coruña are the sixth-most participating Spanish team in the Champions League — after Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla FC — with five Champions League appearances in a row, including a semifinal appearance in 2003–04.
In 2005–06, Barcelona won the Champions League and Sevilla won the UEFA Cup, making the La Liga the first league to do the European "double" since 1997. On 25 August 2015, La Liga became the first league to classify five teams for the UEFA Champions League group stage (Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia).
|1931–32, 1932–33, 1953–54, 1954–55, 1956–57, 1957–58, 1960–61, 1961–62, 1962–63, 1963–64, 1964–65, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1968–69, 1971–72, 1974–75, 1975–76, 1977–78, 1978–79, 1979–80, 1985–86, 1986–87, 1987–88, 1988–89, 1989–90, 1994–95, 1996–97, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2011–12, 2016–17|
|1929-29, 1944–45, 1947–48, 1948–49, 1951–52, 1952–53, 1958–59, 1959–60, 1973–74, 1984–85, 1990–91, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1997–98, 1998–99, 2004–05, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2012–13, 2014–15, 2015–16|
|1939–40, 1940–41, 1949–50, 1950–51, 1965–66, 1969–70, 1972–73, 1976–77, 1995–96, 2013–14|
|1929–30, 1930–31, 1933–34, 1935–36, 1942–43, 1955–56, 1982–83, 1983–84|
|1941–42, 1943–44, 1946–47, 1970–71, 2001–02, 2003–04|
|Deportivo La Coruña||
The All-time La Liga table is an overall record of all match results, points, and goals of every team that has played in La Liga since its inception in 1929. The table is accurate as of the end of the 2016–17 season. Teams in bold are part of the 2017–18 La Liga.
|11||Deportivo La Coruña||45||1814||1530||563||392||575||2052||2188||1||5||4||1||–||1||12||1941–42||2014–15||1|
League or status at 2017–18:
|2017–18 La Liga|
|2017–18 Segunda División|
|2017–18 Segunda División B|
|2017–18 Tercera División|
|2017–18 Divisiones Regionales|
|To be determined|
|Clubs that no longer exist|
In La Liga, players can claim citizenship from the nation their ancestors came from. If a player does not have European ancestry, he can claim Spanish citizenship after playing in Spain for five years. Sometimes, this can lead to a triple-citizenship situation; for example, Leo Franco, who was born in Argentina, is of Italian heritage yet can claim a Spanish passport, having played in La Liga for over five years.
In addition, players from the ACP countries — countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific that are signatories to the Cotonou Agreement — are not counted against non-EU quotas due to the Kolpak ruling.
Until the season 2008–09, no official awards for individuals in La Liga existed. Following[clarification needed] the 2008–09 season, the Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP) governing body sanctioned LFP Awards to player individuals. Additional awards relating to La Liga are distributed, some are sanctioned by the LFP or the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and therefore not regarded as official.[clarification needed]
The most notable of these are four awarded by Spain's biggest sports paper, Marca, namely the Pichichi Trophy, awarded to the top scorer of the season; the Ricardo Zamora Trophy for the goalkeeper with the least "goals-to-games" ratio; the Trofeo Alfredo di Stéfano, for the player judged to be the best overall player in the division; and the Zarra Trophy, awarded to the Spanish domestic player with the highest goal total in La Liga.
The first La Liga player to be involved in a transfer which broke the world record was Luis Suárez in 1961, who moved from Barcelona to Internazionale for £152,000. Twelve years later, Johan Cruyff was the first player to join a La Liga club for a record fee, £922,000 from Ajax to Barcelona. In 1982, Barcelona again set the record by signing Diego Maradona from Boca Juniors for £5 million. Real Betis set the world record in 1998 when they signed Denílson from São Paulo for £21.5 million.
Four of the last six world transfer records (in euro) have been set by Real Madrid, signing Luís Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo (plus a deal for Kaká days before Ronaldo which fell just below a world record due to the way the fee was calculated) and finally Gareth Bale, who was bought for £85.3 million (€103.4 million / $140 million) from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.
The Brazilian forward Neymar was the subject of an expensive and complicated transfer arrangement when he joined Barcelona from Santos in 2013, and his outgoing transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 set a new world record fee at €222m (via his 'buyout clause'). Barcelona soon invested a large chunk of this money in a replacement, Ousmane Dembélé, whose deal – €105m – was the second most expensive ever before Philippe Coutinho's transfer to Barcelona for €142m. 
|2||Cristiano Ronaldo||Real Madrid||2009–||307||288||1.05|
|3||Telmo Zarra||Athletic Bilbao||1940–1955||251||278||0.9|
|4||Hugo Sánchez||Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid & Rayo Vallecano||1981–1994||234||347||0.67|
|6||Alfredo Di Stéfano||Real Madrid & Espanyol||1953–1966||227||329||0.69|
|7||César Rodríguez||Granada, Barcelona, Cultural Leonesa & Elche||1939–1955||223||353||0.63|
|8||Quini||Sporting Gijón & Barcelona||1970–1987||219||448||0.49|
|9||Pahiño||Celta, Real Madrid & Deportivo||1943–1956||210||278||0.76|
|10||Edmundo Suárez||Valencia & Alcoyano||1939–1950||195||231||0.84|
|10||José Mari Bakero||1980–1997||483||139|
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