The tag of the best league in the World has been a topic of intense debate with fans all over the world. The Serie A has it’s fair number of fans and rightly so. The league is home to 3 of the world’s most famous clubs- Juventus, Milan and Internazionale, all founding members of the G-14, a group which represented the largest and most prestigious European football clubs. Never far away from scandal, the league is undoubtedly one of the biggest in the world but personally I don’t enjoy watching it as much as the La Liga or the Premier League. Serie A is ranked 4th among European leagues according to UEFA’s league coefficient. Sitting in 3rd spot in the above mentioned system is the German Bundesliga. There is certainly a lot to admire about the Bundesliga with things like the academy approach and the fans matchday experience particular points that make the league stand out. For more on why exactly the Bundesliga has been making strides, watch out for the Bundesliga series on this blog, an excellent set of articles by Sami Faizullah.
But for me the best leagues in Europe are hands down the Premier League and the La Liga with the 2 sitting atop the Uefa Coefficient in 1st and 2nd place respectively. But is the Premier League really a better league than the Liga BBVA?
Before we look at the talking points, let us briefly take a look at the structure of the 2 leagues. The structure of both the leagues are quite similar. Both the leagues consist of 20 teams, which each team playing 38 games in a season,19 at home and 19 away, in a double round robin format. At the end of the season, the top 4 teams qualify for the prestigious Uefa Champions League, with the top 3 qualifying automatically while the 4th placed team have an additional 2 legged qualifier to overcome. The bottom 3 teams are relegated to the second divisions i.e. the Championship and the Segunda division. The main difference is that in the Premier League, if 2 or more teams are on the same points then goal difference is taken into account. If it’s tied, then goals scored comes into the picture and if the deadlock is still not broken then a playoff match takes place. In Spain, if the tie is between two clubs, then the tie is broken using the head-to-head goal difference. If the tie is between more than two clubs, then the tie is broken, using the games the clubs have played against each other:
- a) head-to-head points
- b) head-to-head goal difference
- c) head-to-head goals scored
In case of a deadlock, it’s decided in terms of fairplay failing which a playoff tie takes place.
- European Performance
One of the parameters used to judge the strength of a league is the performance of their teams in Europe’s elite club competition, the Champions League. Indeed the Uefa Coefficients mentioned in the above article are based solely on that. In terms of overall winners La Liga just shades the Premier League with a Spanish team winning the competition 13 times as opposed to the 12 achieved by their English counterparts. A point worth noting is that the 13 from Spain is distributed between just 2 clubs, Real Madrid(a record 9 times) and Barcelona(4 times). In contrast, 5 different clubs from England have conquered Europe with Liverpool(5) leading the way, followed by Manchester United(3), Nottingham Forest(2), Chelsea(1) and Aston Villa(1). Looking at the more recent future, in the past 10 years both Spain and England have produced 3 winners each. However it is noteworthy that English teams have finished as runners up on 5 occasions in the same period and that an English team has featured in 6 of the last 10 finals whereas Spanish teams have featured in only 3 of the same. So I think it’s fair to say that in the past decade, you’d say that the Premier League has outperformed La Liga in Europe.
- Two Horse Race
The Liga BBVA is a 2 horse race. I say this not to be demeaning to the other clubs or indeed to poke fun at anyone. It is a simple fact. For proof of the above , than a quick look at the list of winners would more than suffice. The last team outside the 2 giants to win a league title was Valencia way back in the 2003-04 season. That makes it 8 seasons in a row, with Barca winning it 5 times and Real the remaining 3. In the same period, the Premier League have had 4 different winners in the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and most recently, Manchester City all holding the trophy aloft. The rest of the Spanish league is simply unable to compete with big spending Barcelona and Real Madrid. Yes it is true that Barcelona utilize their famous La Masia products to produce breathtaking football but let’s not pretend that the fact that they have the financial capacity to buy the likes of Ibrahimovic, Villa, Sanchez, Song, Mascherano etc doesn’t help. It is a luxury that many of the top flight sides outside the top 2 would love to have. What can be done to bridge the gap? The TV rights system for starters. Barca and great rivals Real, the world’s richest clubs in terms of revenue, take about half the total pot of TV income of 600 million euros ($868 million), allowing them to buy the best players and pay exorbitant wages. The remaining 18 teams earn far less than their peers in rival European leagues, where a system of collective bargaining allows for fairer revenue distribution, and have no chance of challenging for the title. Figures collated by Jose Maria Gay, a professor of accounting at the University of Barcelona, show Barca earned 158 million euros from their TV deal in the 2009-10 season, or 26 percent of the total, and Real 136 million euros, or 22 percent. When you compare this to the fact that in the Premier League, Manchester United made 64.5 million euros from domestic TV rights in 2009-10, 5.8 percent of the total. Smaller clubs like Wolverhampton Wanderers (43.8 million) and Wigan Athletic (42.8 million) were allocated about four percent of the pie. But despite this, teams outside the top 2 are certainly no pushovers. Valencia have been the best of the rest, so to speak, over the past few years while Atletico, who have won the Europa League on a couple of occasions since it’s inception, are currently flying. In last year’s Europa League, Athletic Bilbao, who finished 10th, thoroughly outplayed eventual runners-up Manchester United over 2 legs. We are not talking about a smash-and-grab here. United were dominated over the 2 legs and Bilbao were undoubtedly the worthy winners. Yes, United had an extremely poor season in Europe but take nothing away from Bilbao.
While what constitutes entertaining football is subjective, the 2 brands of football played in the leagues is different. In England, the football is more fast paced, physical and direct. The emphasis on speed is great and it makes for great viewing. In Spain, more emphasis is on the technical side of the game apparent in the famous tiki-taka style adopted by Barcelona. While this could be considered a bit stereotypical seeing as a few domestic English teams are quite adroit in playing their own brand of possession football, I think by and large my statement is fair. But contrasting styles is exactly what makes football such a fascinating game.
- Ronaldo, Messi, Barcelona and Real Madrid
To be the best league in the world, you need to have the best teams and indeed the best players. In terms of players there is absolutely no doubt that the Liga BBVA is home to the 2 best players in the world. In Messi and Ronaldo (or Ronaldo and Messi, but that’s a totally different debate), the Spanish League can boast of 2 simply phenomenal footballers. Don’t get me wrong, the Premier League has it’s share of world class players but nothing near the calibre of these 2. Astonishing goal scoring ratios and stats aside, it is a privilege to watch these 2 weaving their magic for their 2 respective teams. Moving on to the teams itself, Barcelona’s domination of European football over the last few years has been there for all to see. The fact that Mourinho’s Real Madrid were able to wrest the league away from them last season tells you a bit about the quality of the Los Blancos.
- Worldwide popularity
A report published in 2011 by the respected Germany-based research and consultancy SPORT+MARKT concluded the total global cumulative Premier League TV audience in the 2010-11 season was 4.7 billion people. This was made up of 3.9bn watching at home, plus another 777m ‘out of home’ – in pubs, bars and clubs. The cumulative total is every person watching matches live or delayed, via repeats, highlights and on ‘magazine’ shows. The 4.7bn figure means the global 2010-11 audience for each of the 380 Premier League games was, on average, 12.3m viewers per game. This is much larger than the equivalent statistics of the Liga BBVA. An interesting point in this regard is that the Premier League doesn’t have a winter break as opposed to La Liga. In fact they have a lucrative additional set of fixtures on boxing day every year. In terms of the Asian market, the time difference also plays an important role. The Premier League games generally kick off earlier thus leading to a larger target audience.
I must confess while I have tried to remain unbiased throughout the article I am a big Premier League fan. Premier League football is my staple diet and given a choice I always pick a Premier League game over all other alternatives. So the final question is which is the best league? Honestly I would say while the Premier League is the most entertaining league in the world, I would stick my neck out and say that the Liga BBVA is the best.
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