Both have always figured amongst the ‘elite’ leagues in Europe and contain some of the biggest, well known, sporting giants of the world game. Between them, they have won the Continent’s biggest prize – the European Cup/Champions League, 24-times in the 56-year history of the competition (with the Spanish winning 13 and the English 11). Both leagues have also been home to some of the greatest players the world has ever seen, but presently, La Liga stands alone as the country of choice for the truly world class player. You see for all its glamour, excitement and competitiveness, the English Premier League lacks a legitimate world class player – and La Liga has them in abundance.
Don’t get me wrong, the Premier League currently contains some of the biggest names in the game, known globally with fans stretching from North America all the way to Japan. Names like Rooney, Gerrard, Tevez and Torres are worshipped, and are (form/injury permitting) indeed, fantastic players. But since 2009 when Cristiano Ronaldo chose to leave English shores, swapping Manchester for Madrid, the truly world class players all now ply their trade in La Liga. But why is this?
Is it the contrast in styles? The English league has always been the most physically demanding league in Europe, with its end-to-end, non-stop tempo and the never-say-die attitude of both players and fans alike, lead to a more exciting spectacle for a full 90-minutes. The speed and toughness was coupled with fair play which became another trade-mark of the league, leading to a vast respect around the world. When the Premier League era was established along with all the marketing glitz, hype and glamour, the money came pouring in, which in turn, led to a foreign influx at both playing and coaching level. Skill levels rose, as did professionalism in all areas, from the training to the dieticians. The game became more technical – but in this area the Premier League was still playing catch-up to much of the Continent and in particular, La Liga.
Not as tactically ‘shackled’ as Serie A, La Liga always prized itself on high levels of skill, technique and attacking verve. Fans would go to the stadiums to be entertained. For many, to win simply wasn’t enough – you had to win with style. A natural attraction occurred. Traditionally, the world’s greatest players have mostly been attack minded; ranging from offensive midfielders (and I don’t mean Joey Barton here) to forwards. From its inception in 1991, only one defender won FIFA’s World Player of the Year award. It’s been a similar situation in the Ballon d’Or awards, were a goalkeeper was named once and defenders were named three times in a history which stretches back to 1956. Since 2008, two men have been recognised as the greatest players in the world; Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – with Messi now standing alone as the undisputed best. Where do they both reside?
The grand names of Barcelona and Real Madrid also help Spain’s cause in attracting the truly world class players (or in Barcelona’s cause, developing them) to La Liga. But this is not a new thing; they always have done. Names like Cruyff, Di Stefano, Maradona, Ronaldo, Zidane and Ronaldinho have all wore their colours. Indeed, a massive 20-winner’s of the Ballon ‘dOr either played for, or went onto play for the two La Liga giants. Money and the glamour of representing these two famous clubs are also factors why they are many a world class player’s choice of location – and location is probably another major factor. Yes, the ‘great’ British weather also puts the Premier League at a big disadvantage when it comes to signing world stars. Sad as it may sound, how many times have you heard of foreign players preferring warmer climes and complaining about our weather?
As stated earlier, the Premier League is home to some amazingly talented players and in the past, the league (with the help from Sky) touted some of these players as the world’s ‘best’. But the likes of Gerrard, Drogba, Torres and Lampard have all passed their peak. Until Wayne Rooney consistently performs against bigger clubs during big games, and on the international stage, he too will remain below the ‘true great’ level. There is potential that a current crop could make the leap – the likes of David Silva, Luis Saurez, Mata and Aguero. But time will tell if they a) make that final step-up a notch, then b) not leave the league for Spain (or elsewhere) as Ronaldo and Fabregas did, and Tevez wants to do.
With the current cream of world football in Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Iniesta, Kaka, David Villa and Alonso all lighting-up La Liga, the Premier League lacks any true world greats – but then, when was it any different?
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