Why the Premier League is NOT the best league in the world
For a as long as I can remember, the majority of fans and pundits within the UK have proudly labored under the assumption that the Premier League is the ‘best’ league in the world due to it’s global exposure and financial drawing power.
However, as the world’s best players continue to look elsewhere and our teams continue to struggle in Europe’s premier tournament this self-confidence is dwindling by the day.
Champions League Failings
Two rounds into this year’s Champions League tournament and already every English side has suffered defeat, further cementing the move away from the supremacy of old.
PSV, Porto, Dinamo Zagreb, and Juventus have inflicted these defeats and have done so in a largely comfortable fashion. An English team has only won Europe’s premier competition on one occasion since 2008, that being Chelsea in 2012, and even that involved a series of some of the most incredibly fortuitous events in the tournament’s history.
In fact, since Chelsea's success an English club has only reached the semi-finals on one occasion. Compare this with the period '04-05 to '10-11 in which an English side was involved in six out of the seven finals.
The story is no different in the Europa League, which questions the widely held belief that Europe’s other leagues lack strength in depth of the Premier League. The three true European powerhouses, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich continue to dominate the tournament year on year. The odd team here and there may slip through with the right approach but the tournament is primarily a three horse race, while England’s horse remains very much a non-runner.
Arsene Wenger’s stronghold within the top four has only served to restrain English prospects in this tournament. A manager who struggles time and time again in big games is destined for failure in what is the ultimate big game tournament, as demonstrated by his one final, and two semi-final appearances in 19 years, which, considering the teams he has had, is an appalling record. No change this year as his Arsenal side somehow managed to bestow the honor of a first Greek win on English soil to Olympiacos, all but ending this season’s Champions League run after just two games.
Heading north, Manchester United may claim to be the biggest team in the world but they are not, and post-Ferguson, they are not even close.
Manchester City, on paper at least, are most equipped to restore English pride in the competition yet they seem powerless to overcome the crippling combination of bad luck and underperformance that has haunted them through their short history on this stage.
If last season's results are repeated - Juventus reaching the Champions League final with Napoli and Fiorentina reaching the Europa League semi-finals - then Italy will jump ahead of England in the UEFA coefficient rankings, deservedly relinquishing us of our fourth Champions League spot.
Fundamentally the Champions League is the only direct point of comparison on which to judge our teams in terms of their position on a global stage.
As they repeatedly come up short, the argument for the Premier League as the ‘world’s best’ does so in turn.
The Best Players Look Elsewhere
It makes me laugh when United fans describe their club as the ‘biggest’ in the world. If that was really the case then a move to Old Trafford would surely be the ultimate goal of any footballer.
It is not, and there is no doubt whatsoever that Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two teams at the pinnacle of football, closely followed by Bayern Munich and soon to be PSG. Barca and Real are the only two clubs that no player will ‘say no to’.
United are, of course, a great club but the cases of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, David Beckham and even David De Gea represent their role as nothing more than a feeder when the mighty Madrid come knocking.
This is a recurring theme across the League as the moment a player reaches that elite status, be it Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric or Cesc Fabregas, it is ultimately a matter of time until they are drawn by the power, history, conditions and financial incentives offered by the super clubs of Europe.
Fabregas is a prime example. Flourished at Arsenal, jumped to Barcelona at the first opportunity, and dispatched back to England when a superior model was acquired.
For me, Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, Bale, Ibrahimovic, Robben, Neuer and Suarez are the eight best players in the world. What do they have in common? They all play their trade outside the Premier League.
Only one player from the league, Robin Van Persie (2013-14), has featured in the top 10 of the Ballon D’or rankings in the last two years. The damning truth is that only one time has a player won the FIFA World Player of the Year whilst active in the Premier League, that being Ronaldo in 2008.
How can any league seriously claim to be the ‘best’ when it possesses none of the world’s best players? Granted there is world-class talent present in the likes of Hazard, Aguero and Alexis but they remain on a tier slightly below that of the global superstars listed above.
The Premier League’s top clubs simply don’t have what it takes to attract or keep hold of such talent.
To compound the issues highlighted above, there is the ridiculous transfer microclimate that the Premier League has adopted through a combination of pure poor judgement and inflated prices.
Once reserved for truly special players, transfer fees of around £20m plus are being thrown around like insults on an on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
Andy Carroll and a clearly diminished Fernando Torres, for £35m and £50m respectively, kick started this trend of overspending and have been followed by absurd transfers such as Liverpool’s £20m for Lazar Markovic, City’s £28m for Wilfried Bony, Chelsea’s £24m for Juan Cuadrado and United’s £28m for Marouane Fellaini to name a few. Compare that with Bayern's capture of Arturo Vidal for 24m or Madrid's purchase of Toni Kroos for 20m.
Even when buying players of a higher caliber, Premier League clubs are being forced to pay way over the odds. £60M for Angel Di Maria and £55 for Kevin De Bruyne (who had sold for 18m the year before) are evidence of foreign clubs seeking to exploit the desperation of English ones in the transfer market.
If clubs continue to overspend, largely on players that they do not necessarily need, then it is only natural that the quality of the league will continue to depreciate.
When it comes to transfer extortion, it comes no greater than in the case of homegrown players. The price of English players is inflating at such a rate that you could be forgiven for thinking we actually had a decent national side.
Staggering fees such as Carroll’s and the £30m United paid for Luke Shaw are hard to justify for even the most optimistic observer. Raheem Sterling is undeniably a player of great potential but to spend £49m on a player with just 19 career goals epitomizes the volatile financial environment the League currently finds itself in.
Prices like this are the reason English clubs continue to bring in foreign exports. The key to a strong league is a strong core of homegrown talent as seen with the circa 60% found in squads in the Bundesliga and La Liga.
Conversely, Premier league squads are made up of 35% Englishmen on average. This reliance on foreigners with the inability to acquire the best is a recipe for failure.
There are valid cases for the Premier League as the most competitive and exciting league in the world due to the capacity of the top eight sides to provide serious competition for one another and the less predictable nature of it’s results. Nonetheless, two of the last three seasons have been a one horse race with the champion winning by more than eight points. In contrast, the Bundesliga is an extremely one-sided affair.
In the case of La Liga it is more a case of a lack of knowledge on the part of the English. Real Madrid and Barcelona dominate as their squads are unparalled. However, there are plenty of sides in the league that would be a serious challenge for anyone in world football, namely Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Athletic, Villareal and Valencia, and this is why Spanish sides continue to outperform England’s in both European tournaments as well as the international stage.
The occasional, headline-making, destruction of one of the league’s weakest teams by the two powerhouses shouldn’t distract from the quality of the league as a whole. Their title races, champions league qualification and relegation battles remain just as, if not better than the Premier League’s.
The best league in the world is the one that possesses the strongest teams and the most quality.
That league? La Liga.