The Premiership, La Liga, and Serie A all claim to be the best football league in the world. But which one has the most truthful claim? Being crowned the best does not only give you bragging rights but also allows you to attract the most talented players and sponsors to further your claim to the title. There are many factors to take into consideration: the number of players in the leagues, the trophies their clubs have won, the quality of the football played, and the stature of the various teams. Is the Premiership’s physical pressure more important than the tactical catenaccio displayed by the Italians? Is the La Liga’s top-heavy style able to overcome the strength and speed of an English midfielder? What is the difference between their Mediterranean counterparts?
When comparing these different brands of “the beautiful game”, we need to consider all the factors that make each one unique. These three aspects are crucial to compare these brands and ultimately build a perception about which one is better than the other.
Fans compare championships in the first and most popular way. Who has the best players? This leads to the obvious conclusion that Spain holds the advantage in this debate, especially since both World (Ronaldinho), and European (Fabio Kannavaro) Players of Year are located in La Liga. Spain also has many other outstanding talents. Madrid’s van Nistelrooy and Raul have Robinho and Beckham respectively, while Barca boasts Deco, Messi and Eto’o. Other clubs boast similarly talented performers such as Joaquin Sanchez at Valencia and David Villa, Riquelme in Villarreal, to name a few.
Italy has a similar impressive list of galacticos. However, Serie A’s more pedestrian nature means that players are often older. Internazionale, or Inter, boasts the most impressive roster. Crespo, Ibrahimovic and Stankovic all ply their trade for the Nerazzurri. Milan, their city rival, also has a slew of stars. Despite losing Andriy Shevchenko to Chelsea this summer, they still have Riccy Ka’ as their world-beater. A cast of talent that is worthy of any trophy includes players such as Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo and Alberto Gilardino. It is also worth noting that the Milan back-guard still has the legendary Paulo Maldini, who serves as captain. Calciopoli’s shadow hangs over the Italian top flight. It is worth mentioning the exodus of Serie A this summer, which saw many of the best players leave the division.
Thuram and Zambrotta left Juventus for Barcelona. Fabio Cannavaro joined Fabio Capello as their Bianconieri coach in Madrid. Emerson and Fabio Cannavaro also joined Fabio Capello as their Bianconieri coach Fabio Cabello in Madrid. Former Serie A favorites like Alessandro del Piero (Gigi Buffon), Pavel Nedved, David Trezeguet and Pavel Nedved have decided to remain loyal to the old lady, and continue their respective seasons in Serie B. Shevchenko, as mentioned, also left Rossoneri to join Chelsea.
Chelsea is the most important player in European football, and we need to be clear about this while discussing them. The current football premise is that the Premiership champions must be followed when it comes the transfer market. Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch, has given Chelsea the ability to field a team that rivals any other club due to their seemingly endless funds. Terry and Lampard were already present before the Russian benefactor’s help. Players like Joe Cole, Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben are now available. Premiership also has some of the best players in the world, including Thierry Henry at Arsenal and Cesc Fabregas from Manchester United; Rooney and Rio at Manchester United; and Steven Gerrard, Liverpool’s talismanic skipper.
When comparing the immense talent on display in these leagues, it is important to remember that while we look at them from the present, the future is also an important factor. We have already discussed that Serie A tends to have more experienced galacticos, while the Premiership has some of the best talent in the Premiership, such as Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas. Spanish football may also be considered a youth-oriented sport, with young players such as Sergio Aguero or Fernando ‘el Nino Torres at Atletico and Lionel Messi and Matias Fernandez at Barca. A Chilean player, Matias Fernandez will join Villarreal in January.
Football is so much more than the game that it was in previous decades. It’s a business and is one of the largest in the world. The transfer prices have risen so much that any “Tom, Dick or Harry” may be worth PS15million. The wages of players have seen a dramatic rise. This is why PS3 million per annum isn’t considered a ridiculous salary for top international players. These extravagant financial demands are necessary as club costs continue to rise.
Top clubs are now using sponsorship, television rights, and marketing revenue to sell a brand rather than a sport. The marketing aspect of major leagues and clubs is crucial to their strength.
Deloitte, an accounting firm, releases financial information about top European clubs’ incomes for the previous season each year. This is essentially a “rich-list” of sides that compare their viability and market strength today’s football game. This list was last updated in 2005 and is almost entirely dominated by the ‘big three leagues’.
Real Madrid is the market leader in football terms, according to the 2005 rankings. The Manchester United marketing machine dominated the previous years; however, the Castilian club took over from their English counterparts. The ‘David Beckham factor is responsible for much of the change in fortunes.
David Beckham, former England captain, is just as well-known for his private life than his football. The ‘Spice Girl’ is Beckham’s wife. He has many tattoos and has outrageous hairstyles. There are also a lot of product endorsement deals. Beckham has been called the’most photographed sporting man ever’ and is well worth his weight in Euros for his club side. Beckham’s new club Real Madrid has dethroned Manchester United, who had previously topped the rich-list. This is considered proof of his marketing value. It is important to note that Madrid’s off-field performance has declined, while their finances have improved. A more recent list could also indicate Beckham’s decline as an international football force.
With the exception of Bayern Munich, the top ten teams on the list are all from Spain, Italy, or England. As we can see, the Premiership dominates the list with Manchester United (2nd), Chelsea (5th), Liverpool (8th), and Arsenal (10th), followed by three Serie A clubs: Milan (3rd), Juventus (fourth) or Inter (9th). La Liga in Spain only has two top ten entries despite Real being the leader in the list and Barcelona being the sixth. These figures are not up-to-date, and if a more recent list was compiled, we’d be able to see the impact of Calciopoli’s influence on the Italian sides.
How you play football will determine how much entertainment a league offers. There are many differences between the three brands and tastes can affect how they perform. These leagues differ based on the type of football played in each country. This may seem obvious on the surface, but it is important that these leagues retain their identity, despite the fact that domestic football has become so multi-cultural.
There are many different brands of football in these leagues. The Italian game, as mentioned, is based on technique, possession control, and patience. Today’s cattenaccio is not as bad as the system used in the mid-twentieth-century to enforce a strict man marking system, with five defenders and a ‘libero” slotting in behind to act as a ball-playing sweepinger. The system as it exists today is outdated because both the zonal marking system and the fact that sweepers are very rarely used has made the latter almost universally the standard in modern football. This system is still used in Serie A football today.
Calcio is often considered dull by people in Northern Europe, while those closer to the Mediterranean consider it a game for purists that represents a higher level of football than any other. It is a game of chess with a more structured approach to football than other countries. The defender is often just as skilled in possession than any other position in football, which is a rare trait in football. Football is played in a style that uses short passes to create space and not longer balls to target taller forwards. This game demands a high level of technical skill, and the art of controlling or passing is paramount.
It is often criticized for its slow pace and slow attacking play. It is not easy to score goals, a fact that is further emphasized by Luca Toni’s remarkable thirty-one goal season last years, which was the first time a player has scored more than thirty goals in Serie A over forty-eight years. Many prefer the bustle and excitement of leagues such as the Premiership.
Premiership is fast and furious. It emphasizes speed, strength and drive. The Premiership is a top-flight in England, and it is home to a high level of football. However, the game is very demanding. English football was often criticized in the eighties and nineties due to its predominance of long ball’ football. Long, direct passes to forward areas were thought to create opportunities for big, physically-striking strikers. Critics criticized this style as being too sloppy and unnatural. Despite the fact the English league evolved since then, similar to the catenaccio roots in Serie A. However, this style is still used to some degree today. Even league champions Chelsea were criticised for using it. The Premiership, despite not having a higher technical level, is still regarded as the most exciting league in the globe due to its intense action-packed intensity.
La Liga, however, has its own style. The Spanish league draws inspiration from South American flair football and is known for its fluid, attacking style of play. The Primera Division of Spain has been a popular choice for many over the years. This is primarily due to the Zidane-inspired galacticos from Madrid, and more recently the achievements of Ronaldinho Gaucho in Barcelona. Spain’s emphasis is more on attacking play than any other European country. The formations are built around skilled wingers and ball-playing midfielders. Although this allows for a more open style of football, it can also expose defense weaknesses. Except for Carles Puyol and Sergio Ramos, Spanish defenders tend to be less strong than their counterparts from other parts of the game. La Liga is very attractive from the spectator’s perspective because of its ability to attack.
Despite the stereotypes we’ve examined, there are exceptions to every rule. This is no exception. Despite being solid and defense-oriented, Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan were praised for their attacking football in Serie A. Arsenal is another great example. Arsene Wenger’s team continues to produce some of today’s most fluid football. The North London team could, however, be considered the exception to this rule, as they are almost entirely dominated by foreigners. It is highly unlikely that any Englishman will feature in the Gunners’ side, given the departures Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole.
A league’s excitement is often determined by the proximity of the participants and the magnitude of the event. As in all walks of life there have been larger sides with greater financial acumen over the years, but there is rarely any spectacle if there isn’t competition.
Over the past two seasons, the Premiership has been dominated largely by Chelsea’s wealth. This is not to say that money alone doesn’t make a difference. It takes more than money to win a league. However, it is credit to players and coaches that they have won the last two titles with consummate ease. However, this season is presenting a very different picture. Sir Alex Ferguson, the wily old Manchester United manager is now producing results comparable to his talented stars. At this stage in time, he stands a respectable eight points ahead of Jose Mourinho and Chelsea.
We see something more than the top two teams in the Premiership. The gap between the top teams, and the chasing pack can be described as chasm-like. There was previously a top four which included Arsenal and Liverpool to the table-topping teams, but this gap has now extended to these clubs. This does however create what can be described as a “second league”, in which clubs other than Chelsea and Manchester United compete for the remaining Champions League places.
The chasing pack includes Arsenal and Liverpool, with Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers following closely. However, any side that can produce a strong run of results can penetrate the group. This was the case last season with Wigan Athletic’s surprise package, which almost won a UEFA Cup berth despite being relegation favorites.
Spain can also consider the dominance of one club in the past two seasons to be the main topic. However, Barcelona’s back to back titles have not received the same treatment as Chelsea’s similar accomplishments. While the boo-boys have been out in force, ‘poohpoohing’ the wealth and attitude (or lack thereof), of the Premiership title holders, Barcelona has been praised as a victory for style over hardship’. Many purists believe that Barca’s flowing football is very appealing to the eyes. This could also be due to the fact that Los Cules, who are more footballing royalty than Mourinho, may have something to do with it.
While the Primera Liga currently sees Catalonian giants at the top, a mini-renaissance by bitter rivals Real Madrid has been temporarily halted while the surprise package from Sevilla looks to ‘upset’ the apple cart. Traditional bridesmaids Valencia seem to have returned to a more traditional position of an usher, as Zaragoza and Atletico Madrid are in good form. La Liga, unlike the Premiership does not often try to narrow the gap between the top teams and their rivals. This is Spanish football’s nature. The top teams are often defeated by less-illustrious rivals.
The match fixing scandal has again affected the Italian top flight’s competitiveness. It seemed like it would be a two-horse race from the beginning of the season. This has been the case in previous seasons, when Milan was fighting Juventus for lo scudetto. It has been decided that Inter and Roma will be fighting for the title, as Milan was docked points and Juventus had to deal with life in Serie B. Inter, the perennial underachievers in calico, has amassed one the strongest squads in the world and is currently a clear advantage over their rivals. Mancini’s men are looking forward to their first title in real life. They were awarded the title in 2006 by default because they were the most guilty side in the Calciopoli scandal.
This question was my first attempt at answering it. I have to admit that I didn’t know what I was doing. Each league is packed with everything that makes football the best and most popular sport in the world. Instead of judging these small teams with a critical eye, we should embrace their passion and flair, and rejoice in the joy that millions of people get from them. Although it took me longer than I expected, I was determined to find the best.
If this assessment leaves all the league’s attributes equal, then the next separates. The Premier League has more money and marketing than any other non-American sports league. Its financial credibility is greater than anything Spain or Italy can offer. The argument here must be, however, that money is important. This leads us to ask, can money be the ultimate undoing for these leagues? James Richardson, a great football broadcaster and journalist, cites this as one of the reasons for Serie A’s decline in fortunes. He believes that the money spent around the turn century was effectively ‘promised funds for future television rights which unfortunately never came to pass. The Premiership however, continues to bring in money.
We draw to the end of competition and Calciopoli forces Serie A’s jockey to quit, leaving a two-horse race. This issue, I’m stepping up my support for the Premiership. Real Madrid is not to be disrespected, but I don’t see Barcelona winning this season. Madrid’s resurgence is something you can only see from watching football for so many years. Manchester United is now the English top flight. It looks like it will reach a thrilling conclusion for the first time since a while.
As I said, I am sorry to say that Italy cannot compete, given their problems. It is a shame, because Serie A was where I spent a lot of my football fandom development, enjoying the joys of the Mediterranean game and watching equally talented, exotically monikered, players. While it is true that an average Italian top-flight footballer has a higher level of fundamental ability than his English counterparts, the scandalous nature of the current Serie A climate makes them unworthy of consideration. I hope we see an Italian revival in football, and that the next decade will see a nation that is again comparable to their Spanish or English counterparts.
It comes down to the last two, and it couldn’t be tighter. It is, however, the Premiership that I consider to be the best. The Premiership is the largest of all the leagues. It boasts the most talented crop of young players, the highest title chase, and the most loyal supporters. It is the most popular nation worldwide and (marginally), the strongest in the global transfer market. La Liga is a league full of flair, creativity, and attacking improvisation. However, this does not diminish its value. This is a much bigger problem than the hapless defense.