7 August 2017 – A question that football fans, pundits, journalists and even players and coaches across the globe have debated for decades upon decades – which football league truly is the best in the world? Be it around the braai or at your local pub, you will hear any number of arguments in support of an individual’s personal preference. But herein lies the crux of this great debate. What it really comes down to is a subjective viewpoint. I myself could be found guilty of committing the very same act.
Thus for the purposes of this specific article I will attempt to answer the above age-old question by placing forth a specific set of statistics, and ten vital variables and key performance indicators (KPI’s) to try and unlock the solution to this puzzle to promote the most objective viewpoint possible.
I think it is fairly safe to work on the assumption that the overall top 5 leagues in the world are (in no specific order): Bundesliga, La Liga, English Premiership (EPL), Serie A and Ligue 1. However, which comes out on top when all is said and done? Let’s take a look at the ten variable and try to figure out which league ‘scores’ the most points.
Key Variable 1: Financial Clout
In the current professional era there can be no doubt that all major leagues enjoy great financial rewards. Billionaire owners, lucrative sponsors (Barclays, Adidas, Nike and many more) and gigantic television rights deals are all just the tip of the iceberg. Salaries are sky-high. Player valuations are just as ridiculous. Paying in excess of $100million for one player when the world battles with poverty is another issue altogether. For the sake of this argument, the EPL seems to edge out all the rest. Five of the top ten richest clubs ranked by Deloitte in 2017 are from the EPL, with unprecedented tv deals, revenue streams (ticket sales, merchandise sales), highest overall salaries, wealthy club owners and more.
Key Variable 2: Popularity
At the outset this variable seems a tight race between La Liga and the EPL and with good reason. Yes La Liga has the bigger stars but the EPL is easily the most marketed world-wide (due to the above-mentioned financial clout), has the largest number of overall attendances (almost every single game is sold out while La Liga crowds dwindle for smaller games) and has the most shirt sales overall. Also, four (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United) of the top seven clubs with the most fans world-wide are from the EPL. One simply has to look at the number of South African fans who follow this league to cement this argument.
Key Variable 3: Number of Champions League/Europe League Titles
If one has to simply look at bare statistics and records, Spanish teams boss the number of European titles won in the history of the game:
|La Liga||Serie A||EPL||Bundesliga||Ligue 1|
In the professional era since 1992, EPL teams have won a combined total of 6 (4 Champions and 2 Europa) out of a possible 50 titles in 25 years. If you add the number of European Super Cups and other titles, Spanish teams dominate even more with a whopping 56 titles in total.
Winner: La Liga
Key Variable 4: Number of World Class Players
Even though the EPL does have a wider spread of ‘very good’ players in general, with the Bundesliga following closely behind, it is a well-known fact that the cream of the crop plies their trade in Spain. The likes of Suarez, Neymar, Ronaldo, Iniesta, Kroos, Messi, Modric, Bale, Isco, Griezmann and many more, are all La Liga superstars. Germany may have Manuel Neuer while England have the likes of David de Gea (Madrid bound next season) and Eden Hazard (maybe Paul Pogba too), but the numbers don’t quite compare to Spain’s plethora of truly world class talent. The combined European XI picked at the end of each season contains very close to a full quota of La Liga players with the odd Bundesliga and Serie A player but very few EPL or Ligue 1 players making the cut.
Winner: La Liga
Key Variable 5: Number of Ballon d’Or/World Player of the Year Winners
This particular variable is fairly cut and dried as the winners and their respective leagues are documented in black and white and hence there can be no ambiguity. The past nine winners alone are La Liga stars. The professional era is basically owned by Spanish based stars when it comes to player of the year winners although a special mention should go to Serie A stars who ruled this award in days gone by (Juventus; Bayern Munich).
Winner: La Liga
Key Variable 6: Social Media
Linked to the ‘popularity’ variable, this key indicator stands alone due to the extraordinary impact of social media in modern-day society. Currently Real Madrid (104 million Facebook fans, 30 million Twitter followers) and Barcelona (103 million Facebook fans, 22 Twitter followers) lead the way with most followers across all major platforms. England’s most popular team Manchester United lag far behind with 74 million Facebook fans and 12 million Twitter followers. Both Spanish giants are also far ahead on other platforms such as Instagram (roughly 50 million each) and YouTube (roughly 3 million each) proving without doubt whom the winner is here. Ronaldo’s personal pages alone sink even the most popular celebrities.
Winner: La Liga
Key Variable 7: Match-Day Statistics
This is an interesting one but too detailed to get into completely. Recent statistics show that Bundesliga and Ligue 1 are at the opposite ends of the scale regarding goal scoring, with Germany being the highest and France the lowest, while Italy, England and Spain all ranked closely in-between the two. The Bundesliga has the highest goals per game ratio of 2.85 goals from 1999/00 until current times, while Ligue 1 sits at the bottom of the rankings with a measly 2.37. The other three leagues hover between those two, with La Liga just ahead of the EPL with 2.69 goals per game ratio. The high-scoring thrillers in Germany are also a factor for fan enjoyment.
Key Variable 8: Competitiveness & Entertainment
Without question, the EPL is the most competitive league. La Liga is more often than not contested between Barca and Madrid, Juventus own a monopoly on Serie A, Bayern simply cannot be stopped in Germany and Paris Saint Germain only have one or two competitors in France. However, in England, any one of six or seven team stands a decent chance of success. Leicester City’s title success proves the point even further. This adds to the entertainment and drama. Yes La Liga gives the world El Clasico but the Premier League provides a situation where any team can beat any other team on any given day.
The relegation battles are always intriguing as well. The atmosphere at matches (singing and chanting) is also unrivalled in the EPL and matches are full of foreign characters that add spice too, simply adding to the entertainment factor.
Key Variable 9: Youth Development
Close to two decades into Germany’s fast-tracked revolution in youth development, teenagers who are regulars in the top flight such as Stuttgart’s winger Timo Werner are seen as future legends. With Germany qualifying for all five youth tournaments in 2015 – they’re the only nation to do so – future national coaches will remain spoilt for choice for years to come. I recently read an article about how Germany could put out four different starting XIs with any of those being as strong as the other. La Liga also has top-notch youth academies with Barcelona a great example but for youngsters actually playing in the first team within the main league, the Germans take this one easily, especially with the EPL relying on experienced foreigners.
Key Variable 10: Technical/Tactical Superiority
Going on from the European successes, as well as how these goals are scored, Spain holds the edge here. The phenomenon of ‘Tika-Taka’ which helped the national team claim the 2010 FIFA World Cup final, is further evidence. England sees more of a physical and ‘long-ball’ (getting the ball into the box at every chance) game while Serie A does bore at times with conservatism. The best play in La Liga for a reason and put on technical masterclasses each and every week with jaw-dropping skill and precision.
Winner: La Liga
|League||La Liga||EPL||Bundesliga||Serie A||Ligue 1|
If we were to go by these specific key indicators and bare statistics then La Liga is indeed the best on the planet. Yes there are other key aspects to consider including the glamour aspect (La Liga), the hard and tough nature of a league and defensive capabilities (Serie A) and incessant news and media coverage (EPL), but it is a totally realistic and credible opinion to have that Spain tops the charts. The EPL is easily the most popular, Germany produces the best young talent (hooliganism is rife in both leagues though), Ligue 1 is a future giant and Serie A will always be tough but as things stand, La Liga is king.
By: Dhirshan Gobind