In April 1928, José María Acha, a director at 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. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Club, Real Sociedad, 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 Club, 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 Club 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.
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 2019–20 season. Teams in bold are part of the 2020–21 La Liga season.
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 Royal Spanish Football Federation (Spanish acronym 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 FC Barcelona that 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.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Spain, FC Barcelona began to emerge as a force under the legendary Josep Samitier. A Spanish footballer for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, Samitier cemented his legacy with Barcelona. During his playing career with them, he scored 333 goals, won the inaugural La Liga title and five Copa Del Rey. In 1944, Samitier returned to Barcelona as a coach and guided them in winning their second La Liga title in 1945. Under Samitier and legendary players César Rodríguez, Josep Escolà, Estanislau Basora and Mariano Gonzalvo, Barcelona dominated La Liga in the late 1940s, winning back to back La Liga titles in 1948 and 1949. The 1940s proved to be a successful season for Barcelona, winning three La Liga titles and one Copa Del Rey, but the 1950s proved to be a decade of dominance, not just from Barcelona, but from Real Madrid.
Although Atlético Madrid, previously known as Atlético Aviación, were champions in 1950 and 1951 under catenaccio mastermind Helenio Herrera, the 1950s continued the success FC Barcelona had during the late 1940s after they had won back to back La Liga titles. During this decade, Barcelona's first golden era emerged. Under coach Ferdinand Daučík, FC Barcelona won back to back doubles, winning La Liga and Copa Del Rey in 1952 and 1953. In 1952, FC Barcelona made history yet again by winning five distinctive trophies in one year. This team, composed of László Kubala, Mariano Gonzalvo, César Rodríguez and Joan Segarra won La Liga, Copa Del Rey, Copa Eva Duarte (predecessor of Spanish Super Cup), The Latin Cup and The Copa Martini Rossi. Their success in winning five trophies in one year earned them the name 'L’equip de les cinc Copes' or The Team of The Five Cups. In the latter parts of the 1950s, coached by Helenio Herrera and featuring Luis Suárez, Barcelona won yet again their third set of back to back La Liga, winning them in 1959 and 1960. In 1959, FC Barcelona also won another double of La Liga / Copa Del Rey, conquering three doubles in the 1950s.
The 1950s also saw the beginning of the Real Madrid dominance. During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, there were strict limits imposed on foreign players. In most cases, clubs could have only 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 who naturalized Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás. Di Stéfano, Puskás, Raymond Kopa and Francisco Gento formed the nucleus of the Real Madrid team that dominated the second half of the 1950s. Real Madrid won their third La Liga in 1954, 21 years later since 1933, and retained its title in 1955. In 1956, Athletic Club won their sixth La Liga title, but Real Madrid won La Liga again in 1957 and 1958. All in all, Barcelona and Real Madrid won 4 La Liga titles each, with Atletico Madrid winning two Liga and Athletic Club winning one during this decade.
Real Madrid dominated La Liga between 1960 and 1980, being crowned champions 14 times. Real Madrid won five La Liga titles in a row from 1961-1965 as well as winning three doubles between 1960-1980. During the 1960s and 1970s, only Atlético Madrid offered Real Madrid any serious challenge. Atletico Madrid were crowned La Liga champions four times in 1966, 1970, 1973, and 1977. Atletico Madrid also finished second place in 1961, 1963 and 1965. In 1971, Valencia won their fourth La Liga title in 1971 under Alfredo di Stefano, and the Johan Cruyff-inspired Barcelona won their ninth La Liga in 1974.
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 Inter Milan for £152,000 (£3.4 million in 2019). 12 years later, Johan Cruyff was the first player to join a club in La Liga for a record fee of £922,000 (£11.2 million in 2019), when he moved from Ajax to Barcelona. In 1982, Barcelona again set the record by signing Diego Maradona from Boca Juniors for £5 million (£18 million in 2019). Real Betis set the world record in 1998 when they signed Denílson from São Paulo for £21.5 million (£38.1 million in 2019).
Real Madrid's monopoly in La Liga was interrupted significantly in the 1980s. Although Real Madrid won another five La Liga titles in a row from 1986-1990 under the brilliance of Emilio Butragueño and Hugo Sanchez, the Basque Clubs of Real Sociedad and Athletic Club also dominated the 1980s. Real Sociedad won back-to-back La Liga titles in 1981 and 1982, after leaving both Real Madrid and Barcelona as runner ups. Their title wins were followed by fellow Basque club Athletic Club, who won back-to-back titles in 1983 and 1984, with Athletic Club winning their fifth La Liga and Copa Del Rey double in 1984. Barcelona won their tenth La Liga title in 1985 under coach Terry Venables, their first La Liga win since 1974.
Johan Cruyff returned to Barcelona as manager in 1988, and assembled the legendary Dream Team. When Cruyff took hold of this Barcelona side they had won only two La Liga titles in the past 11 years. Cruyff decided to build a team composed of international stars and La Masia graduates in order to restore Barcelona to their former glorious days. This team was formed by international stars Romario, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov and Ronald Koeman. Cruyff's Dream Team also consisted of La Masia graduates Pep Guardiola, Albert Ferrer, and Guillermo Amor, as well as Spaniard Andoni Zubizarreta.
Johan Cruyff changed the way modern football was played, and incorporated the principles of ‘Total Football’ into this team. The success of possession-based football was revolutionary, and Cruyff's team won their first European Cup in 1992 and four consecutive La Liga titles between 1991 and 1994. In total, Cruyff won 11 trophies in eight years, making him the most successful manager in Barcelona's history until the record was broken by his protégé Pep Guardiola two decades later.
Barcelona's run ended with Real Madrid winning La Liga in 1995. Atlético Madrid won their ninth La Liga title in 1996, as well as their only Liga/Copa Del Rey double, before Real Madrid added another Liga 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 won the La Liga title in 1998 and 1999, including their fourth double of Liga and Copa Del Rey in 1998. All in all, Barcelona won six La Liga titles in the 1990s and continued their success throughout the 2000s.
The 21st Century has continued the success FC Barcelona had in the 1990s under Johan Cruyff, dominating La Liga. Although Real Madrid have been prominent, Barcelona have created a hegemony in Spain not seen since the Real Madrid of the 1960s-1970s. Since the start of the new century, Barcelona have won 10 La Ligas, including two trebles and four doubles. This new century however has also seen new challengers being crowned champions. Between 1999-00 and 2004, Deportivo La Coruña finished in the top three on five occasions, a better record than either Real Madrid or Barcelona, and in 2000, under Javier Irureta, Deportivo became the ninth team to be crowned champions. Valencia were also a very strong team in the early 2000s; they were crowned La Liga champions in 2002 and 2004 under Rafael Benitez.
Real Madrid won their first Liga titles of the century in 2001 and 2003. With world-class players like Raúl, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Gonzalo Higuaín, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Figo, Real Madrid won back-to-back La Liga titles in 2006–07 and 2007–08. FC Barcelona won their first title of the new century under the brilliance of Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o in the 2004-2005 season. Barcelona retained the title and won it again in the 2005-2006 season.
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 joint fifth-most participating Spanish team in the Champions League with Sevilla — after Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Atlético Madrid — with five Champions League appearances in a row, including a semifinal appearance in 2003–04.
Under the era of Pep Guardiola, powered by La Masia's talent, such as Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, Barcelona added two straight Liga titles in 2009 and 2010. FC Barcelona also became the first team in Spain to achieve the Treble in the 2008–09 season, consisting of winning the La Liga/Copa del Rey double and the UEFA Champions League. Barcelona won a third straight La Liga title in the 2010–11 season, but Real Madrid ended their winning streak in the 2011-2012 season under the management of José Mourinho. Real Madrid won their 32nd La Liga title with a record at the time of 100 points. The following year, in the 2012-2013 season, Barcelona won yet again another La Liga title under coach Tito Vilanova, replicating the 100 points record Real Madrid achieved the previous year. Atlético Madrid, under the management of Diego Simeone won their tenth La Liga title in 2013–14, their first since 1996. Atletico Madrid became the first team since Valencia in 2004 to win La Liga and break Barcelona and Real Madrid's dominion over the league. In the 2014–15 season, under the trio of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez nicknamed 'MSN', Barcelona made history by becoming the first team to achieve a second treble, and winning a sixth Liga/Copa Del Rey double. Barcelona continued their dominance and in the 2015–16 season, won back-to-back Liga/Copa Del Rey double, something that has not been achieved since the 1950s. Real Madrid brought back the La Liga title under the management of Zinedine Zidane in 2016–17, but Barcelona won the title again in the 2017–18 season, as well as winning their eighth double, for 7 La Liga titles in 10 years. Barcelona retained the title yet again and won their 26th La Liga title in the 2018–19 season, for 8 La Liga titles in 11 years. Madrid reclaimed the title in 2019–20, winning the season that was severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Barça finished second, making it their twelfth consecutive placing in the top two, with eight victories . For Madrid, it was only their third title since the start of Barcelona's dominance in 2008–09 .
In 2005–06, Barcelona won the Champions League and Sevilla won the UEFA Cup, making La Liga the first league to do the European "double" since 1997. This feat was repeated in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018. On 25 August 2015, La Liga became the first league to qualify five teams for the UEFA Champions League group stage (Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia).
Until the 2008–09 season, no official individual awards existed in La Liga. In 2008–09 season, the LFP governing body created the LFP Awards (now called La Liga Awards), awarded each season to individual players and coaches. Additional awards relating to La Liga are distributed, some not sanctioned by the Liga de Futbol Profesional or RFEF and therefore not regarded as official. The most notable of these are four awarded by Spain's largest sports paper, Marca, namely the Pichichi Trophy, awarded to the top scorer of the season; the Ricardo Zamora Trophy, for the goalkeeper with the fewest goals allowed per game (minimum 28 games); the Alfredo di Stéfano Trophy, for the player judged to be the best overall player in the division; and the Zarra Trophy, for the top scorer among Spanish domestic players.
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 amount of the money received from this transfer in a replacement, Ousmane Dembélé, whose deal – €105m – was the second most expensive ever before Philippe Coutinho's transfer to Barcelona for €142m in January 2018.
Four of the last six world transfer records 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 in 2013 for £85.3m (€103.4m or $140m at the time; £98.5m in 2019) from Tottenham Hotspur.