Is the Premier League the best league in the world? Perhaps the question should be ‘has the Premier League ever been privy to the title of being considered to be the best league in the world?’
Leeds United were the last champions of the old Division One back in 1992. The Premier League, complete with bags of cash from broadcaster Sky Television and a shiny new trophy took over top flight football the following season and has gone from strength to strength commercially ever since. But can it be regarded as the best league in the world when compared to its peers, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga?
Since its formation, the previous century or so of English footballing history appears to have become an afterthought with everything now centred on the Premier League. Nowadays, historic cup competitions such as the FA Cup, the oldest cup competition in the world, and the League Cup are viewed as more of a hindrance than a valued prize by many in the top division; promotion to the lucrative Premier League is now considered the Holy Grail and getting into the top four and qualification for the Champions League, the holy water.
In the early-to-mid 1970s, Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam and German superpower Bayern Munich became the first clubs since Real Madrid in the late 1950s to win European football’s top club competition, the European Cup, three times in a row. Yet, before the Heysel Stadium tragedy of 1985, English football had taken over as Europe’s dominant force, with Liverpool (4), Nottingham Forest (2) and Aston Villa (1) winning seven European Cups between them in eight years to add to Manchester United’s sole previous triumph back in 1968.
After Heysel, English football clubs were banned from European football for five years with Liverpool ordered to serve an extra year for their fans’ part in the tragedy. In their absence, Italian football regained the baton as the toughest and most lucrative league in Europe. Serie A has always been characterised by its difficulty with the emphasis placed firmly on catenaccio, or defensive solidity. Milan, inspired by Dutch superstars Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten dominated Serie A in the early 1990s and won the European Cup three times in six years, including a 4-0 dismantling of Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona ‘Dream Team’ in 1994.
However, despite its continued ability to attract top talent, Serie A today is almost a one-show pony with Juventus dominant having won the last five championships at a canter, and with an eight point lead at the time of writing, a sixth a mere formality. Their dominance has been aided by their ability to prize away their rivals’ biggest assets, last summer being a prime example when the Bianconeri paid an Italian record for Napoli’s prolific striker Gonzalo Higuaín in addition to the acquisition of Roma’s Miralem Pjanić.
With Juventus dominant in Italy, the same can be said about the leagues in France and Germany. Since acquiring sleeping French giants Paris Saint-Germain in 2011, Qatar Sports Investments have bankrolled the capital club to four straight Ligue 1 title triumphs, luring the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović (now departed), Angel Di María and Edinson Cavani to the Parc des Princes among others. PSG have yet to crack Europe, although a 4-0 destruction of the mighty Barcelona in their round of 16 first leg gives hope they can emulate great domestic rivals Marseille to claim a maiden Champions League crown in May. Domestically, PSG has been untouchable for the past four years, but this season the form of Monaco and Nice gives hope that 2017 may not be the year of the Parisiennes. In addition, Marseille have secured a wealthy new owner, which can only be good for the future of competition in Ligue 1.
Bayern Munich has always been the dominant force in German football. Despite periodic success from the likes of Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hamburg in the distant past and Borussia Dortmund more recently under Jürgen Klopp, Bayern are by far the biggest club in Germany. They have the most titles, the most money and are set up to succeed on the European stage better than all of their rivals. Bundesliga champions for the past four seasons and seemingly on course to make it five, only Dortmund and perhaps the reviled East German nouveau-cash rich RB Leipzig can offer a realistic challenge to Bayern’s dominance in the near future.
Which brings us to Spain. Now this is a real contender for best league in the world. It has two of the biggest clubs, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, and the two biggest names in world football, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have between them won the last nine Ballon d’Or’s on offer. Although the big two more often than not contest the title year-in-year-out between them with Atlético Madrid joining the party over the past few years, La Liga also possesses a number of clubs who make the Primera División one of the most competitive around. Sevilla, reigning Europa League champions for the past three years, are this season providing neutrals with real hope that they can break the dominance of Spain’s big three clubs, while Valencia, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao have all proven that on their day they can cause the biggest clubs all manner of difficulties.
But is the La Liga better than the Premier League? It probably depends on your point of view. The Sky money has allowed clubs to improve stadia and facilities no end, while perhaps more importantly to the fans, it has allowed English clubs to compete financially for some of the best players on the planet, Messi and Ronaldo aside. Chelsea are huge 1/8 favourites in the latest Premier League betting to win the Premier League this season. It is now arguably the toughest league in the world with any team on their day capable of beating one of the so-called big guns. However, the best league doesn’t necessarily contain the best teams, something England’s recent lack of success in Europe can quite evidently point to.
Chris qualified from the University of Brighton in 2007 with a degree in Sports Journalism and is a sports fanatic, spending pretty much all his money following the Welsh football team all over Europe (and yes spending five weeks on tour with Wales in France at Euro 2016). He has written for numerous websites and has two fully published football biographies to his name. Chris also enjoys rugby union, cycling and darts and enjoys a regular (daily!) punt on football.