Is the Premier League the best league in the world? It’s a tough one, it well and truly is. It seems that in the last 4 or 5 years, the Premier League has taken a firm stride in priding itself on being the ‘best league in the world’. Most people in this country seem to think it is anyway, the journalists, the pundits, and the everyman in the street, we all love to bang on about how the Premier League is the best. But I’m not convinced that ‘best’ is the right word.
What does ‘best league in the world’ actually mean? Does it mean that the Premier League has the best players? Well that can’t be right because the FIFA world XI consisted entirely of La Liga players. Does it mean that the Premier League has the best teams in the world? Well, having only had one English team in the quarter finals of the Champions League last season, this season we’ve done even worse, with not one English team making into the last 8. So does it mean that the Premier League is the most competitive then? Well, England has seen three teams win the domestic title in the last six years, whereas the Bundesliga has seen four in the last six, Ligue 1 in France has seen five winners in the last six, and the Brazilian Serie A, which is making a name for itself has seen four winners in the last six years.
So, the Premier League doesn’t have the best players, it doesn’t have the best teams and it isn’t the most competitive? So where do we all get off labelling it the best league in the world?
In reality of course, it’s not that simple. Other factors come into it. Like the fact that the Premier League is the most marketed and televised league. And if Barcelona and Real Madrid weren’t around (who contributed to no less 10 of the 11 players in the FIFA world XI) there would surely be some Premier League players in that team. This season’s Champions League has also been quite harsh on the English teams. Chelsea drew a difficult group, while Manchester City drew an almost impossible group, Man United and Arsenal drew last season’s semi finalists and runners’ up respectively in the round of 16. And aside from the Bundesliga, while Ligue 1 and the Brazilian Serie A may have had more winners in recent years than the Premier League, as competitive as they may seem, the quality of those league are undoubtedly nowhere close to what the Premier League offers up.
But one thing’s for sure, we shouldn’t as a nation be so quick to scoff at the lack of quality we believe other leagues to have. We look at the La Liga table and (aside from this season thanks to an uncharacteristically poor start by Madrid) we usually see Barcelona and Madrid way out in front, and we’re talking 20-30 points ahead of third place, which is staggering. But what we mustn’t do is then presume that the gap is so extortionate due to the lack of quality underneath the two Spanish giants, no certainly not. Madrid and Barcelona are perhaps two of the finest club sides in the game’s history. That is the reason for the gulf in class. Just look at how the Spanish teams under Barcelona and Madrid have fared against English teams in recent years.
In this country, we presume there to be a huge difference in class, because we have Wayne Rooney playing for our team, we have Luis Suarez playing for our team, we have Van Persie, Sergio Aguero, Frank Lampard, David Silva or whoever else, and who do they have? Roberto Soldado? Adrian Lopez? Markel Susaeta? They are no match for our Premier League superstars. Hmmm, well let’s explore that theory.
Last season we saw Manchester City rely on a 93rd minute winner to beat Villarreal, a team who were relegated from La Liga that season. Manchester United were humbled by the impressive Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League. United were totally out manoeuvred and outclassed. Bilbao now currently sit 14th in La Liga, a mere eight points off the relegation zone. Then there was Chelsea who were thumped by Atlético Madrid 4-1 in the Super Cup in August. Despite what people may think in England, that Atlético are far from a one man team. This illusion that below the two big-dogs of Spanish football lie rubbish feeder teams is nonsense. The way money is dispensed throughout the league in Spain is slowly crippling the teams below the top, granted, but these teams are making our best look rather average.
Then we move onto the Italian Serie A. Once a league of legends during the 90’s and early 00’s has since sunk into a corruption-riddled, hooliganistic, second rate league. It is now deemed the fourth strongest league by the UEFA coefficient, which has given its fourth Champions League spot to the Bundesliga, something which would have seemed unthinkable not too long ago in the days of Ronaldo, Figo, Nedved, Zidane, Del Piero, Nesta, Maldini, Seedorf, Batistuta, Rivaldo and many, many more. We in England don’t really take the Serie A seriously any more, but the last two seasons have shown the Italians bringing it to the English more times than one. Napoli surprised us all when they got the better of Manchester City, knocking them out in the group stage, then proving that that was no fluke by beating Chelsea 3-1 in Naples. Had it not been for a miracle turnaround spurred on by the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas and conducted by Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea would have lost the tie for sure. AC Milan slaughtered Arsenal 4-0 in the 1st leg of the round of 16 last season, and even though Arsenal nearly completed a memorable comeback in the 2nd leg, the damage had already been done. And in November, Juventus outplayed and smashed Chelsea 3-0 in Turin, marking the end of the road for Di Matteo.
The Bundesliga has, in the last few years, had reason to suggest that the quality of their sides betters ours. Man City have met both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the group stage of the Champions League in successive season and have come up second best against both. Chelsea of course beat Bayern on penalties in that memorable final at the Allianz Arena, but only the most delusional of Chelsea fans would fail to admit that Bayern Munich bossed the entire game and deserved to win. And in the group stage of that same season, Chelsea were beaten by Bayer Leverkusen and were lucky to finish above them.
Above is a list of examples of where English teams in the last 1 or 2 years have been taken to school by supposedly ‘weaker’ teams from ‘weaker’ leagues. Of course, the games in question could have been one-offs but the consistency these Saxon slaying sides against other sides from the Premier League have shown suggests otherwise.
Now, I’m not trying to suggest that the Premier League is rubbish, far from it. And it’s rather easy of me to come out and write this just as the last English side is knocked out of the Champions League, but the question remains; is the Premier League really the best league in the world?
For me, ‘best’ is too vague a word. I think that the Premier League has some terrific players, many who would walk into most sides in the world. We have some very successful teams, just take a look at how many of our sides reach the semi-final every year (8 in the last 5 seasons). We have incredible, loud and passionate fans who support their team through thick and thin and fill out their grounds week-in week-out (with the exception of certain parts of Lancashire – sorry Wigan fans, but there’s just not that many of you). That’s more than you can say for the supporters in Spain and Italy who only half-fill their stadia and who aren’t reluctant to boo their own players if things aren’t going to plan.
Only the Bundesliga can really rival the Premier League for noise level and passion. And one other thing which makes the Premier League so exciting is that you feel that any side could beat any other side on any given day. The gap between the team in 1st and the team in 20th isn’t nearly as huge as it is in Spain. The fact that teams from 8th upwards can challenge for the title, the fact that teams from 9th downwards can potentially be relegated, the fact that we have an intense battle not just for the title, but for fourth place also, is something truly special. The Premier League has found a nice balance of having some fantastic players in the best few clubs but still remaining extremely competitive and exciting. The Premier League will always provide drama and excitement, but to suggest that it is hands down ‘the best’ league in the world is, in my book, not quite right, but then again, I don’t think any league is deserving of that title, and now it’s time for us stop being so big headed when apparent minnows from Spain and Italy with great philosophies and game-plans as opposed to galáctico players can come over and rumble our giants with consummate ease.
Regardless of whether you think the Premier League is the best in the world doesn’t matter at the end of the day. We all love our football here in England, so in our minds, the Premier League will always be number 1 (whatever the heck that means these days).