The sort of language that is spewed out from the Premier League press office, often feels more akin to a pretentious, middle-management meeting than football talk. Phrases like ‘global brand’, ‘international outreach’ and ‘maximized profits’ all now feel relatively routine during broadcasts of our nation’s top football competition. And to a certain extent, that now reflects the business-orientated world that we currently live in.
But despite being reminded of how entertaining our ‘global’ league is every week and how many millions of homes it’s beamed into, does that really make it the best, as so many social commentators claim? Because whilst the Premier League may be top of the pops economically, it feels as if La Liga is what players view with the higher esteem.
First of all, it’s important to not let the blinds of national pride obscure an honest opinion on this one. Of course, people are rightly protective of our national pastime and take great pride in the enormous success of the Premier League. It is interwoven into the fabric of society and this season has showcased, more than ever, the level of almost unrivalled entertainment and drama. From Manchester United’s breathtaking 8-2 destruction of Arsenal, to the really quite unbelievable scenes at the Etihad last month, the Premier League has a strong case to dub itself the most entertaining league in Europe.
But entertaining doesn’t necessarily mean best. How you define what makes a football league reign supreme is relative subjective. But a generally accurate yardstick must be what that of the continent’s best footballers think. And the truth of it is that La Liga, for the moment anyway, has the edge.
Let’s take the current situation on face value. The three best players in the world, which for arguments sake is judged by the last Fifa Ballon d’Or vote, are Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta. All three of them ply their trade in La Liga. In fact, out of the latest FIFPro World XI, the Premier League’s sole representatives were Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney.
Already, there are holes to pick in that argument. Of course Messi and Iniesta came through the Barca youth ranks. But Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t appear out of a hat in Madrid somewhere; he consciously chose to leave Manchester United and the Premier League, to go to La Liga. There will always be murmurings about the Spanish lifestyle and weather. But when was the last time any of the top English clubs truly lured one of Real Madrid or Barcelona’s best players over to the Premier League? It feels almost inconceivable that a player of equal importance to what Ronaldo was to United, would choose to up sticks and trade in Spain for England at the moment.
There can’t be any doubt that top European and International talent still want to come and ply their trade on these shores. But there is just an inescapable feeling of slight superiority that the two Spanish giants wield. One of the most precocious and ferociously courted transfers of last summer, was that of Chilean starlet, Alexis Sanchez. He had a que of admirers, and could well of earned goldmines more at Manchester City, who showed serious interest. Yet Barcelona and La Liga reigned supreme.
In fact in recent history, players from outside both the Premier League and La Liga, who have been amongst Europe’s most wanted, seem to of plumped for La Liga. Karim Benzema snubbed the Premier League, as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar did when he was hot property. The sort of money that would make a banker blush couldn’t turn Kaka’s head when City came calling, but he couldn’t resist the allure of the Beranabeu. And even within our top division, Javier Mascherano and Cesc Fabregas felt it was time to wave goodbye. It was hard to leave Alvaro Arbeloa out of that list, but jokes aside, the above list all bares the same hallmark. These were all players that were in their pomp and who’s stock was sky high when they left the Premier League- none of them were fading stars.
Even the most recent, star-studded addition to the Premier League seems to have come to England with one eye on the sangria and sunshine. As Eden Hazard revealed his reasoning behind heading to Stamford Bridge, he delighted fans by making sure everyone knew he rejected the overtures of Manchester United. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make sense of what the young Belgium star seems to be alluring to here:
“The team is young and I have a better chance to play there (Chelsea). At 21, Real or Barça would have been more difficult for me. If I play well enough at Chelsea, I could win my place in the starting team. When they won the Champions League, I told myself: ‘Why not Chelsea?'”
It is undoubtedly reading between the lines, but whatever way you frame that statement, he isn’t quite giving the Spanish clubs the same elbow he gave Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. If Hazard comes good in West London, you wouldn’t be stupid to have a flutter on the ex-Lille man ending up in Spain in a few seasons.
The Premier League probably isn’t loosing too much sleep over their supposed Spanish rivals. And this article isn’t trying to decipher who has the stronger league in terms of depth and entertainment. Because ultimately, the axis of La Liga is set between two, massive football clubs- the recent captures of Sergio Aguero and Juan Mata demonstrate this. Perhaps beneath the elite duo in Spain, La Liga teams walk in the shadows of their Premier League equivalents, at least in terms of attraction and allure.
But at the very top, the elite, the cream of world football- Spain’s top clubs has the edge over England’s. Because beneath the revenue figures, the brand talk, the styles of play and the number of goals, the world’s best footballers want to play in La Liga. The Barclays Premier League is a fantastic competition. But for the moment, it could be wise to lay off the P.R. spiel as when push comes to shove, it rings hollow.
How do you feel about the perceived battle between the two leagues? Why are the top players favouring Spain? Or do you think that I am spouting rubbish? Let’s talk it out on Twitter, follow @samuel_antrobus and get involved with the discussion