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the ‘premier’ league?

August 5, 2009

The Premier League vs. La LigaIn recent years, the Premier League has come to be widely regarded as the best league in world football. However, at the same time, it has been getting less and less competitive, in that there have really only been a maximum of four teams who could even dream of winning the title for the past however many seasons. This suggests that the quality attributed to the Premier League to justify its ‘best in the world’ status was largely top heavy – the ‘big four’ are fraught with top players, and while other sides challenging for Europe also have their fair share, the lower sides are often quite weak.

However, this summer’s transfer activity has been rather different to in previous years. Where previously the top four clubs would perhaps trim a little here and there from their squads, they would usually add to their roster generously too, but that hasn’t happened. Manchester United have lost Ronaldo and Tevez, Liverpool have all but lost Alonso and could soon see Mascherano leave, Arsenal have lost Adebayor, Toure and possibly Senderos. Chelsea really, are the only side not to have lost key players. The question is then, does this ‘exodus’ of quality from the Premier League’s big four mean that the Premier League is no longer the best league in the world?

The answer to that question really depends entirely on how you judge a league’s quality. Because while the Premier League’s big four have undoubtedly dominated European competition for the past few seasons, it is perhaps erroneous to judge the entire league by the success of those clubs. Despite some reasonable UEFA Cup runs from Everton and Villa, you have to question the strength in depth of the Premier League recently.

Last season was a prime example of this, there were an awful lot of teams who could very easily have been relegated. The bottom half of the table was an extremely close affair, and on their day any of the lower teams could have beaten any of their relegation rivals. This was, essentially, because they were all so poor. In most other leagues and seasons, there are a few poor clubs who will battle amongst themselves to survive. Last season, there were probably at least 9 or 10 clubs who could easily have gone down.

But then, that meant that the League was thoroughly exciting. It was almost impossible to predict, it was close, it was tense and it was downright edge-of-your-seat stuff right down to the wire, when Newcastle fell of theirs and down into the Championship. Arguably then, if you measure the quality of a league by the entertainment that it provides, then last season’s Premier League, because it was so poor, was actually really good.

It is for these reasons that the Premier League has been undisputedly the best league in the world for the past few seasons. Because the clubs at the top have been home to a high percentage of the world’s best players, and because the clubs at the bottom provide the competitive spirit and sense of uncertainty and excitement that every league needs. Even though the title race was a four horse race, which was a bit boring, the relegation battle was a ten horse race, which was great.

But now the quality of the top four sides will come into question. As I detailed above, they have lost a lot of quality players. Chelsea of course are the exception, but their squad is ageing quickly and you have to wonder just how long they will continue to perform consistently at the highest level. This means that the Premier League’s status as being home to most of the world’s top players is now under threat.

Especially when you consider the summer activity of Real Madrid. They’ve of course added Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka to their squad, but in signing the likes of Raul Albiol and Karim Benzema too, with Xabi Alonso on his way, they’ve added a whole lot of quality to La Liga. Of course, Barca have signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic too, and love him or hate him, you have to admit he has a lot of quality. On paper then, it looks to me like the balance of power has shifted to La Liga, in terms of ‘big names’.

Certainly, the Premier League still has its fair share, but with some of the world’s biggest stars (including the ‘big three’ of Messi, Kaka and Ronaldo) converging in Spain, plus Barcelona being the reigning European champions, it seems that La Liga has staked a massive claim to the title of ‘best league in the world’.

However, the criticisms levelled at the Premier League in recent seasons are just as potent when aimed at La Liga, if not more so. While the Premier League was lamented because it was a four horse race, La Liga is seemingly a straight drag between Barca and Madrid. Gone are the days when Valencia, Sevilla, Villareal or even Deportivo La Coruna could challenged for the title. Spain’s big two have consolidated their dominion over the Liga and to be frank… made it a bit boring.

Of course, any game involving Barca isn’t going to be boring, and with Madrid attempting to balance a side with so many massive egos their matches should be a comedy of tantrums and sulking, but other than that, there’s not a lot there. Some of the other sides lay great football, but it’s largely meaningless because they aren’t in with a shout, while the bottom clubs are often terribly poor, probably worse even than West Brom last season.

And while the Premier League has been a four horse race, that is at least better than two. What’s more, if you believe the hype, then it soon could be a five horse race, with Manchester City throwing their hat in the ring. Personally, I don’t believe the hype, but I certainly think that this could be the season when the top four is broken, with Everton and Villa again looking strong and sure to make a go of it, they could also be considered dark horses for the title – stranger things have happened.

The fact is, that despite the slight exodus of top players from the big four club, the Premier League could actually be better for it. While the ‘big four’ may not dominate the Champions League quite so convincingly again, the competition on home soil will doubtless be intense. I’m beginning to plan my season preview and predictions for my own site, and to be honest with you, I have no idea who to predict will win the league at the moment – it’s there for the taking from any one of six or seven clubs.

It’s the same story at the bottom of the table too. There are the usual suspects, the unknown quantities of the promoted sides and the usual couple of slightly bigger sides who will struggle and get sucked in against all the odds, á lá Newcastle last time around. If you asked me to pick out the three most likely teams to go down and put me on the spot, I would most likely open my mouth and spew out some gobbledigook as I tried to say the names of six or seven teams at once.

So is the Premier League still the best league in the world? That’s a matter of perspective. While La Liga arguably has the strongest XI on paper, I would have to say that the sheer openness of this season’s Premier League compared with a spread of real top class players over at least seven or eight clubs means that the Premier League would probably get my vote. La Liga’s El Classico matches between Barca and Madrid will certainly be drool-worthy, but to be perfectly honest, almost every clash in this season’s Premier League is as mouth-watering, because on any given day, any thing could happen.

And that, at the end of the day, is why we watch sport. I get pissed off at New Zealander’s because they assume that their All Blacks rugby team will win every game just because on paper, they have the best team. Because sport isn’t played on paper, it’s played on grass (or at least, football is), it’s played under pressure, and it’s played without a script. There are no guarantees in sport, and I think that the Premier League is still the best league in the world because I can tell you now that Barca or Madrid will win La Liga, but I have absolutely no idea who will win the Premier League.

But I’m sure as hell looking forward to finding out.

Like this article? There’s plenty more where that came from at They Think It’s All Over…


6 Comments leave one →
  1. George permalink
    August 5, 2009 11:44 am

    Sir Alex has recently written off Liverpool’s chances of winning the title this season, claiming Chelsea are United’s biggest threat. So maybe the Blue wiley old men won’t do so bad after all, if the wise one is correct.
    Still, the Benitez/Ferguson war of words has been going on a long time now, and it’s getting a little tedious. I hope the ‘big four’ are broken this season, but not by Man City. That’s too predictable. I want someone like Burnley to cause a shock and stir it up at the top! That would be brilliant.

  2. August 5, 2009 3:02 pm

    I’m trying to arrange AB and whill to start our first podcast of the season up and running and this will be one of the areas we’d definitely talk about!

  3. August 6, 2009 2:23 am

    Nice post. i learned many more about the football from this post.
    thanks for posting.

  4. Milano permalink
    August 7, 2009 7:14 pm

    Very nice post. But I think that the best league is determined on an individual basis. The reason I dont like EPL fans is that they blindly follow what coaches/presidents/club owners say in regards to them being the best league in the world. People forget that it wasn’t too long ago that the biggest names wanted to play in Serie A. Things change, and the balance of power shifts in football as it does with almost everything in life. If you like fast paced unpredictability, you’ll like EPL, superior defense and tactics: Serie A; beautiful passing and technical skill: La liga. Ofcourse this is wayy to vague to even be an argument, but its just an example of what i’m talking about. Football is beautiful regardless of where its played, and even though I enjoy watching tactical football and enjoy Serie A, i always watch EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, etc. Football should focus more on clubs, rather than what country they play in. Comparing leagues is very difficult because there are many things to take into consideration, not just CL finals and whether bottom teams are competitive. Good matches are good matches, so regardless if its Man U v Liverpool, Inter v Milan, or Barca v Real, these matches are entertaining to watch and one is not better than the other.

    Still I enjoyed your article, and found some pretty valid points. Keep it up bro.


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