With the Christmas period being so busy in the world of football, it’s rare to experience a day like today where there isn’t a great deal of action to talk about. Whilst there have been some early round cup games in Spain and Italy, it’s probably more worthwhile to take to the opportunity to have a bit of discussion which isn’t so much about events on the pitch.
There’s always much debate over which nation’s domestic league is the ‘best’ in the world but there’s never any true clarification of what this really means. It’s widely accepted that the English Premier League, trying to avoid my own subjectivity, takes the top spot. You frequently hear of players not native to England having the dream of playing in the Premier League. Even just today, new Manchester United full back, Diogo Dalot, called it the “best League in the world” whilst Brazilian star Neymar suggested every top player has to play in England’s top division at least once in their career. Thus, the Premier League is clearly widely admired by both spectators and top professionals all around the world.
But what makes the Premier League so special? Let’s start with Neymar’s comments. Whilst his words may have been hinting at his own possible big money move to England at some point in his career, let’s not speculate about what may or may not happen in the future. Instead, let’s examine what he’s implying more deeply. Rather simply, the Brazilian winger has suggested that if someone does not spend any time playing in the Premier League then it is impossible for them to be considered a top player. As much as we hear of Messi making a £300 million move to Manchester City almost every year, the chances of this actually happening are very slim. Other legends who have never played domestic football in England, like Messi, include Pele and Maradona as well as many others. Does this mean Neymar doesn’t believe these icons of the game to be top players? Well, Messi is considered one of best, if not the best player of all time. In fact, it’s fairly rare for someone who is considered one of the best in the world to play all or most of their career in the Premier League. The quality of the best players within that particular league is not an argument that England’s top division can use in its claim to be the best in the world.
To add to this, having the best players logically leads to having the best team. It’s difficult to compare who is better than who by looking at the number of domestic titles that clubs in different nations have. Instead, the best way is by looking at who has won the most European Cups or Champions Leagues, where top clubs from all around Europe come up against each other head to head. Whilst English clubs are the joint second best performers in Europe, along with Italy, accumulating a total of 12 trophies, it is the Spanish sides who are way out in front. In fact, Real Madrid have won one more trophy in Europe’s top competition than all the English winners combined. On paper, Los Blancos are the dominant Spanish side but you’d struggle to call them the best team in Spain without Barcelona fans having something to say about it. In truth, both sides are extremely strong with English sides struggling to meet such high standards, with Manchester City only now looking like they could be at a similar level. Teams from other nations such as Juventus, PSG and Bayern Munich are arguably just as good, if not better than England’s top sides. Clearly, the Premier League doesn’t necessarily possess the highest quality teams in the world so, again, why is everyone seemingly in such awe of it?
The only reasonable answer to that questions is that it possesses something all other leagues are somewhat lacking: competitiveness. For a substantial number of years now, all of Europe’s top leagues, other than England’s, have been dominated by one or two teams. If you back anyone other than Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG or Juventus to win their respective leagues then you would ultimately be putting your money on huge underdogs. That is not the case in the Premier League. Even after City won the league by a significant margin last season, it’s far from a given that they will do the same again with Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all looking to have improved. In 2015/16 Leicester City, who a lot of people tipped as relegation favourites, claimed the title under Claudio Ranieri. You have to go all the way back to the turn of the millennium to find when an English side, Manchester United, won three Premier Leagues on the bounce. It isn’t often a side cruises to the title in England and if they do it’s almost guaranteed this won’t happen two or three years in a row. The overall standard of the Premier League is extremely high with major upsets occurring fairly frequently; if Juventus or PSG were to lose a game, that would be much more of a shock than if one of England’s top sides were to lose.
Whether it be a football season or the ending to your favourite TV series, something unpredictable is almost always going to be far more entertaining than something where you can easily guess the outcome before it has even begun. Football is a show, it is entertainment, and the Premier League keeps audiences engaged right up to the very end. That’s why it has to be the best league in world football.