Serie A, La Liga and the Premiership all claim to be the best football league in the world today. However, which of these has the more genuine claim. The recognition of being the best is an honor that dictates not only the right to brag, but also the ability to attract the best players and sponsorship contracts to further secure the role. There are countless factors to consider; the league players now have, the trophies won by their clubs, the quality of the football played and the stature of their various teams. Does this tactical catenaccio of the Italians outweigh the physical pressure of the Premiership? Would La Liga’s high-end flair continually defeat the strength of an English midfielder? How do Mediterranean cousins compare?
In comparing these different brands of the “beautiful game” we must take into account the many factors that make them exceptional individually. History, present and future are all crucial in setting these different brands against each other and ultimately building a perception of whether one is above the others.
The first and often the most popular way for fans to compare leagues, who has the better players? The natural assumption that follows is that Spain has the upper hand in this argument; especially since the world players of the year (Ronaldinho) and Europeans (Fabio Cannavaro) play in La Liga. Spain can also boast of many other great talents; Madrid have van Nistelrooy, Raul, Robinho and Beckham, Barça can boast of Ronaldinho, Deco, Messi, Eto’o and Zambrotta. Other clubs have huge performers too, David Villa and Joaquin Sanchez in Valencia, Riquelme in Villarreal to name a few.
Italy can boast of an equally impressive list of galactics, however, perhaps due to the more pedestrian nature of Serie A, players tend to be of a slightly older age. Internazionale (or Inter) has the most impressive list; Crespo, Ibrahimovic, Veron, Stankovic, Figo and Samuel trade there for the Nerazzurri. Their rival city of Milan also has a cornucopia of stars; despite the loss of their talisman Andriy Shevchenko against Chelsea this summer, they have a world batsman in Riccy Kaka ”. Also such renowned players as Andrea Pirlo, Alessandro Nesta and Alberto Gilardino face a cast that contains enough talent to challenge any trophy. It’s also worth mentioning that the Milan rearguard still contains the legendary Paulo Maldini as captain. With Calciopoli’s shadow hanging over Italy’s top flight, it’s worth mentioning the Serie A exodus which took place over the summer and saw many of their best individuals leave the division.
Zambrotta and Thuram left Juventus for Barcelona, as did Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson joined their Bianconieri coach Fabio Capello in Madrid, and former Serie A favorites like Alessandro del Piero, Gigi Buffon, Pavel Nedved and David Trezeguet have all decided to stay true to the old lady. and exercise their profession in Serie B for one season. As mentioned, Shevchenko also left the Rossoneri for Chelsea.
When discussing Chelsea, we have to make it clear that she is a major player in European football today. The premise that exists in football right now is that when it comes to the transfer market, Premiership champions are the team everyone else needs to follow. Due to the seemingly limitless funds stranded by their Russian oligarch owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea have assembled a star-studded squad to match any other club in the world. With Terry and Lampard already present before the contribution of the Russian benefactor, players like Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba, Joe Cole and, as discussed, Shevchenko. The Premiership can also boast of some of the best players in the world, Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal; Rooney, Rio and Ronaldo at Manchester United and Liverpool’s talismanic skipper Steven Gerrard.
The important thing to emphasize when comparing the undoubtedly huge talent on display in these different leagues is that while we look at them from the current perspective, the future is also a vital factor. As we have discussed, Serie A tend to boast more seasoned galactics, while the Premiership can claim that, in Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas, they have some of the most promising talents. Spanish football could also make the case that their spread encompasses young people, with youngsters such as Sergio Aguero and Fernando ‘el Nino’ Torres at Atletico, Lionel Messi at Barca and a name to watch out for Matias Fernandez, a point guard. of Chilean game which is due to join Villarreal in January. .
Football in the 21st century is much more than it was in previous decades. It is now a company, and one of the largest in the world. Transfer prices are now such that it looks like any ‘Tom, Dick or Harry’ is worth £ 15million. Player salaries have also seen astronomical increases. This is to the extent that £ 3million a year is not considered a completely outrageous salary for a major international player. With the costs to clubs on the rise, someone is needed to meet these extravagant tax demands.
Sponsorship, television rights and marketing revenues are now used by top clubs who now sell a “brand” rather than a sport. From pairing products to shirts with trade names, the marketing aspect of big clubs and leagues is paramount to their strength.
Each year an accounting firm called Deloitte publishes details of the financial income of top European clubs in the previous season. Essentially a “rich list” of teams, comparing their viability and strength in the marketplace in today’s football world. The most recent edition of this list dates from the 2005 season and the peak of the list is almost completely dominated by our “big three”.
The 2005 rankings indicate that the world leader in the football market is now Real Madrid. The previous years had been dominated by the Manchester United marketing machine; however, the Castilian club took over from their English rivals. Much of this change in fortunes is attributable to the ‘David Beckham factor’.
Former English skipper David Beckham is as famous for his privacy as he is for his football. Married to a “ Spice-Girl, ” the midfielder looks more like a pop star than a footballer, sporting plenty of tattoos, consistently outrageous hairstyles and a multiplicity of product endorsement deals. Described as the “most photographed sportsman of all time,” Beckham is worth his weight alongside his club. The fact that Manchester United, who were previously at the top of the rich list, were dethroned by Beckham’s new club Real Madrid is seen as proof of the man’s worth from a marketing standpoint. . However, it’s worth mentioning that Madrid’s on-field performances have declined while their finances have improved, and a more recent roster may also hint at Beckham’s decline on the pitch as a force in world football.
The top ten teams on the list are, with the exception of the Bavarian giants Bayern Munich, all from Spain, Italy or England. The majority is dominated by the Premiership as we see Manchester United (2nd), Chelsea (5th), Liverpool (8th) and Arsenal (10th), followed by three Serie A clubs in Milan (3rd), Juventus (4th) and Inter (9th) and La Liga have only two entries in the top ten, although Real top the list followed by rivals Barcelona in 6th. Looking at these numbers, we must first point out that they are not as up to date as we would like, and if a more recent list were drawn up we would surely see Calciopoli’s effect on the Italian sides.
The extent to which a league entertains depends largely on how you enjoy your football. All three brands vary wildly in their features and taste is a vital factor in this, after all, one man’s pineapple is another man’s poison. The main differences in these leagues are inherent in the style of football played in each respective country. Although at first glance it might seem obvious, but considering how incredibly multicultural national football has become, it is positive that these leagues retain their own identity despite this.
The brand of football played in leagues differs greatly. As mentioned earlier, the Italian game is based on technique, control of possession and patience. The cattenaccio of today’s Italian game is not as negative as that of teams in the mid-twentieth century, where five defenders would be used to enforce a rigorous system of marking men with a ‘libero’ inserted behind as a ball sweeper. Unfortunately, the system in its original state is now obsolete, as the zone marking system has almost uniformly become the status quo of modern gaming and sweepers are now very rarely used. However, the football played in Serie A today echoes this system.
Calcio is often viewed by locals in northern Europe as dull, but those closer to the Mediterranean as a purist game that embodies a higher level of football than any other. Football in Italy has been assimilated to a game of chess, with a more systematic approach than that of other countries. Defenders are often as good in possession as any other position, a trait not found anywhere else in football. The style of football played uses plenty of short passes designed to open up pockets of space, rather than longer balls targeting taller attackers. The game requires a very high level of technical skill, with the art of controlling and passing essential.
Critics of Italian play often point to its lack of pace and time-consuming offensive play as its flaws. Goals are notoriously difficult to achieve, a fact further embellished by looking at the impressive thirty-one-goal season of Luca Toni last year, the first player to score more than thirty Serie A goals in forty-eight years. As such, many prefer the bustle of leagues like the Premiership.
The Premiership is a very fast and furious division; emphasis on strength, rhythm and motivation. This doesn’t stand up to the fact that a very high level of football can be seen in England’s top flight, but overall the game is dictated in a very physically demanding way. English football was widely criticized in the 80s and 90s for a predominance of “long ball” football. The theory being that long straight passes in the advanced areas would create chances for big physical attackers used on purpose. This style has often been considered non-graceful and has been criticized by critics. Despite the fact that the English league has since developed, like the Catenaccian roots of Serie A, this style still exists to some extent today; Even league champions Chelsea have come under fire for using such a style. Although not at such a high technical level, the Premiership is often considered “ the most exciting league in the world ” due to its non-stop action-packed intensity.
In contrast, La Liga has a style all its own. Borrowing heavily from a South American football flair ethic, the Spanish league is renowned for its fast and fluid offensive style of play. Spain’s Primera Division has won over many admirers in recent years, first thanks to Zidane-inspired Galactics Madrid and more recently Ronaldinho Gaucho’s exploits for Barcelona. In Spain, more than any other in Europe, the emphasis is on attacking play. The formations are based on ball-playing midfielders and skillful wingers. This produces a very open brand of football; however, this often reveals defensive weaknesses. With a few exceptions (Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol), Spain’s defenders are generally not as strong as their counterparts further away from the game. That, combined with the ability of the attackers, makes La Liga very appealing from a spectator’s point of view.
Regardless of the stereotypes we’ve looked at, there are clear exceptions to every rule, and this instance is no different. Despite being generally strong and defense-oriented, Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan have been praised for their attacking Serie A football. Also, and potentially the best example of that, is Arsenal. Arsène Wenger’s men continuously produce some of the smoothest balls in world football today. However, for obvious reasons, the North London side could be seen as the exception to the rule as they have a squad almost completely dominated by foreign players. As, since the departures of Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole, it’s unlikely that an Englishman, if the Gunners were at full power, will feature at all.
What makes a league exciting is often based not only on the vastness of the occasion or the protagonists involved, but also on the proximity of the competitors. In all leagues, as in social circles, there are historically larger teams with greater financial acumen, but where there is no competition there is no spectacle.
The Premiership has been dominated by Chelsea’s wealth over the past two seasons, despite the fact that it takes more than money to dominate a league (although that does help) and that is an honor to the players and the coaching staff they have. took the last two successive titles with consummate ease. This season, however, paints a different picture. Cunning old Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is now producing the results his talented array of stars is capable of, and at that point he is eight points clear of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
Beyond the first two, we see something that has been apparent in Premiership for some time. The gap between the top teams and the chasing pack could rightly be described as a chasm. Previously there was a top four that added Liverpool and Arsenal to the current rivals, but unfortunately for the neutral that gap has extended to those clubs as well. However, this creates what can be considered almost a ‘second league’ in which the clubs behind Manchester United and Chelsea compete for the remaining places in the prestigious European Champions League.
This chase pack includes both Liverpool and Arsenal, followed in force by the team by Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur, but indeed any other team that can muster a good streak of results can infiltrate the group, as was the case with Wigan’s surprise package from last season. Athletic, who nearly secured a UEFA Cup berth as he was billed as a relegation favorite ahead of the start of the season.
Spain may also view a club’s dominance over the past two seasons as the main point of debate. Barcelona’s back-to-back titles haven’t received the treatment of Chelsea’s similar achievements, however. While the “ boo-boys ” have been in force “ poo-poo ” the wealth, attitude and style (or the lack thereof) of the Premiership title holders, the success de Barcelona has been hailed as a ‘style victory over adversity’. From the perspective of many purists, the fluid football brand Barca presents is very pleasing to the eye and the fact that Los Cules are seen as football royalty, rather than the nouveau riche of Mourinho’s men, could be a postman.
As of now, the Primera Liga still sees the Catalan giants at the top, a mini-renaissance of their bitter rivals Real Madrid has been temporarily put on hold as Seville’s surprise package seeks to ‘shake up the apple cart’ . Valencia’s traditional bridesmaids appear to have returned to a position closer to an usher as Atletico Madrid and Zaragoza enjoy good form. Unlike the Premiership, La Liga generally does not bridge the gap between top teams and their rivals. This is the nature of Spanish football, that although unexpectedly, the best teams are more often beaten by their less illustrious competitors.
In the Italian top flight, once again, competitiveness is affected by the match-fixing scandal. From the start of the season, it looked like it would be a two-horse race. In previous seasons this has been the case, with Juventus battling Milan for lo scudetto. However, as Milan have scored points and Juventus face life in Serie B, they have left Roma and Inter to fight for the title. Calico’s perennial underachievers Inter have assembled one of the strongest teams in the world and as such currently have a clear distance ahead of their rivals. Nine straight wins for the nerazzurri (an Italian record) see Mancini’s men watching the canon of their first real title (they were awarded the 2006 title by failing to be the highest ranked team guilty of any wrongdoing in the Calciopoli scandal) in more than ten years.
When first attempting to address this issue, I can honestly say that I didn’t quite design what I was doing. All three leagues are packed with everything that makes football the greatest sport in the world and, in my opinion, the best. Rather than being scrutinized with a cynical eye, we should really embrace these bastions of passion, flair and ability, reveling in the delight millions of fans derive from these three small collections of twenty teams. However, I embarked on a journey, a journey that took longer than expected, but still a journey to uproot what I believed to be the best.
If this rating leaves all attributes of the league equal, the next one splits. Money and marketing are more important in the Premier League than in any other non-American sport, and financial credibility overshadows anything Spain or Italy can boast of. However, the argument in this case must remain, how important is money (apart from bragging rights)? Which leads us to wonder if the money isn’t potentially the ultimate destruction of these leagues? Taking Italy as a prime example, big football broadcaster James Richardson cites this as the reason for Serie A slowing down in fortunes; he believes that the money that was spent at the turn of the century was indeed “pledged” funds for projected future television rights which unfortunately never materialized. However, in the Premiership, the money keeps coming in.
Finally, we tackle the last issue of competitiveness and with Calciopoli forcing Serie A to get off its jockey leaving a two-horse race. In this issue, I prepare my stand early and support the Premiership. Without disrespecting Real Madrid, but I can’t see Barcelona being usurped this season. Watching football for many years now, you get to know when a resurgence threatens, and Madrid are not that. Manchester United are England’s first flight however, for the first time in some time it looks like they will come to a really biting conclusion.
Overall, as I have mentioned throughout, it is with regret that I admit that Italy, given all of its difficulties, cannot compete. This upsets me, as it was Serie A where I gained much of my development as a football fan, spending years enjoying the delicacies of the Mediterranean game, watching exoticly dubbed players with equally glamorous abilities. It is true that the average top Italian footballer has higher fundamental abilities than his English counterpart, but the stigma of the scandal is too apparent in the current Serie A climate to be taken into account. I hope that we will see a renaissance of Italian football and that over the next decade we will see a nation rejuvenated and compete again with its Spanish and English counterparts.
So these are the last two, and in truth, it couldn’t be tighter. However, it is the Premiership that I believe is the best. It is by the width of the reproductive organs of a leak, but the Premiership has the lot. He has, in my opinion, the most exciting crop of young players, the most competitive title race and the best supporters. It has the largest global audience and is (marginally) the strongest nation in the global remittance market. This is not to hurt La Liga, a league of endless offensive improvisation, flair and adventure, a league that has history, has incredibly gifted players, has Ronaldinho, but its flaws are too clear. The unhappy defense is one example and too big a problem to ignore.
For me, the Premiership only recently got the role it was looking for since its inception. For Baggios, van Bastens, Papins, Maldinis, Batistutas and friends of Nineties Serie A to Zizous, Figos, Rivaldos, Ronaldos, Rauls et al of Noughties La Liga, there has always been something to separate English football from the top of the tree, but now it’s clear that the FA Premier League is THE major force in world football today and given the money and follow-ups going into keeping that coat, I predict that will be the case for the years to come.