The small issue of the best league in the world.
Throughout Europe and most likely the world, there is an age-old question or debate that’s a regular occurrence in football conversations.
You will find this topic of conversation in any given place, at any given time, from any calibre of fan, observer or casual supporter of football. Yet such is the nature of the ever-changing football stratosphere, nobody has answered it with a definitive or convincing argument and most are biased to the country they live in.
My latest run in with this topic of conversation came in the shape of a casual, off the cuff question from non other than my youngest son. While reading one of his football magazines, like all young football mad 11-year-old’s do when relaxing with their dad watching a football match. His inquisitive brain made him look up at me, with all the intensity of a footballer poised to take the fifth and decisive penalty in a cup final and said “dad, which country has the best league in the world, England, Spain, Italy or Germany?
Naturally, as a father who’s nurturing his young child’s development in not only education, not only football but their football education, I had to take my time and ponder this question intently before I delivered my verdict.
To answer such a question you have to take many things into consideration. Obviously the answer is relative to the person who’s pondering it but the point is, your answer has to be convincing and powerful enough to change the views of others who may see it another way.
The English, Spanish, Italian and German leagues are all top leagues but have very different qualities which make them top quality in their own way. The English league is a very physically tough league to play in. Its fast pace with non stop action and full-blooded challenges, make it very demanding but extremely exciting to watch.
Spain is full of flair and skill, it’s a league with gifted footballers who like the ball at their feet and generally have excellent close control, demonstrating players with a high skill level. Italy’s league generally possess a defensively solid quality which is very technical and high on tactics. They have players who are astute tactically but also technically gifted. Germany has a league where the teams are very strong as a whole, their teams are efficient in working as a team, players are strong, athletic and well-drilled so can work within several specific systems.
How can you possibly make a judgment call on which league is the best following that information? It really does depend on what you like as a fan. With that being said, each league sacrifices something for their good qualities.
I believe The Premier League sacrifice a high level of defensive and technical quality across the board. La Liga sacrifices a bit of physicality and strength in the tackle. Serie A sacrifices end to end excitement, goals and quickness while Germany sacrifices individual flair and ability. I am not saying these leagues do not have this at all but it’s lacking generally.
So again, how can you possibly make a judgement call? The closest gauge or barometer could possibly be the European competitions. In the Champions League, Spanish and Italian clubs have been to 24 finals apiece winning 14 and 12 respectively. English clubs 19 (winning 12) and Germany clubs 17 (winning 7).
But there is a saying that a group or a structure is only as strong as its weakest link. So seen as there is no “lesser team” European competition (well, not since the inter-toto cup) possibly the Europa League is a better place to analyse this. Italian teams have contested 15 finals (winning 9). German 14 (winning 6). Spanish 13 (winning 8). English 12 (winning 7).
So overall in Europe. Italian clubs have been in 39 finals, winning 21. Spanish clubs have been in 37 finals winning 22. English clubs have been to 31 finals, winning 19 and German clubs have been to 31 finals, winning 13. – We also have to remember English clubs were banned from European competitions for 5 years.
European finals win %
The figures above could give you some idea of how good the leagues are, especially when coming up against clubs from other countries across Europe. Unfortunately, these figures do not just include clubs from the four leagues in question. French, Portuguese and Dutch clubs especially, have also contributed to the success and failure rate of the above four counties in European competition.
Change of scenery
Aside from European competitions, another way to compare is to look at top players who have played in several leagues and possibly analyse from there.
Off the top of my head, I remember Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Henry struggled to get games an adapt at Juventus. Bergkamp struggled when he moved from Ajax to Inter Milan. Both found a home in the English league and excelled. Diego Forlan was a flop at Manchester United before going to Spain and setting that league alight, he also lit up a World Cup
Andriy Shevchenko was a devastating striker in Italy having 7 successful seasons, he then went to Chelsea for big money and had 3 disappointing seasons. Veron, Aquilani, Baptista, Kigawa and Mutu are other players who didn’t make it in England but was successful elsewhere. In Italy, the likes of Ian Rush, Mendieta, Huntelaar, Diego and Patrick Kluivert had torrid times compared to in other countries.
In Germany. Jean-Pierre Papin, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Simon Kjaer struggled but done well elsewhere and In Spain, players the likes of Kaka, Ibrahimovic, Woodgate, Walter Samuel and Owen didn’t have a good time there but did well in other countries.
Again this information gives good insight but does not deliver anything conclusive or particularly sway the odds completely for any league.
As I stated before it is all relative and I think when answering the question of the best league you have to narrow it down from season to season.
I think every league has had their moments and can build an argument at one stage over the past 20 odd years to say they had the better league. I think in the early 90’s it was Italy, late 90’s and early 2000’s was shared between Spanish and German. Mid 2000’s was English, late 2000’s Spanish and now its between Spanish and the German. But again, that’s all relative and and matter of opinion…..Mine!
That’s the reason this is an age-old question and debate and will continue to be. Football is ever-changing, just like the quality of players, teams and leagues.
I doubt any league at any given time will actually conclusively or unanimously lay claim to the world’s best league. Though generally these four leagues in question are the top four leagues in the world and to me that should be good enough.
So with all that information swirling around my head in a matter of minutes. While my 11-year-old son sat there waiting for reply in eager anticipation, I was prepared to answer his question. In the end, I did what any intelligent, caring, nurturing father would do…..I bottled it and replied “Who knows what the best league is, they’re all the best in their own way…..Read your magazine son”…..JOB DONE!