We all know the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, a man who was tricked into parading around naked, with everyone joining in the pretence that he indeed had clothes. Now before I go about bashing the Premier League, I want to be clear that I don’t wish to bash the Premier League. It is a very good league what I’m questioning is not its quality, but rather its self proclaimed superiority.
Performance in Europe
One of the major claims of the Premier League is how strong the English clubs are in Europe. Admittedly yes they consistently make it to the latter rounds of the competition, but there is also the fact that in the last ten years there have only been two English champions. I would also point to the consistency in the competition as an actual sign of weakness when looking at the league itself. Including the 2004 season until the present day the Premier League has had seven different clubs finish in the Champions League positions, only four of them have managed it more than once. In Spain there have been nine, with six of them managing it more than once. In Italy there have been ten, with six of them managing it more than once. In Germany there have been eight, with five managing it more than once; bear in mind that Germany is allocated once less place than the other leagues. Now I don’t like to use stats too much when making a point as football is very subjective and contextual, but the aforementioned qualification histories are an indication that the other leagues have plenty of teams capable of finishing in the top four. This means that it is hard for these leagues to do consistently well in Europe because it is various teams each year. The Premier League clubs however have been able to monopolise their places in the league, meaning they can spend money based on future revenues. A lack of competition to their position means they can focus more on the Champions League. I would also argue that the Champions League performance is not an indication of the strength of a league. Were Porto the best team in Europe in 2004? Were UTD the second best team in Europe last year? As a Liverpool fan I will happily admit we weren’t the best team in Europe in 2005. Tottenham may have knocked out Milan last season, meaning many English fans questioned the quality of Serie A. Those who watch Serie A though will know that the tie came at a time when Milan were misfiring in the league. Most of their good play was going through Cassano, who of course was unavailable for selection in Europe. I have no doubt in my mind that Milan are a far better team than Spurs, but that is knockout football, the best team doesn’t always win.
Another big boast of the Premier League is the unpredictability of it all, well as already indicated by the top four finishing positions of the last seven years or so the league has actually been fairly predictable. Premier League promoters at the moment look down upon La Liga and often claim ‘There are only two teams in Spain’ well this may be somewhat true at present. The last time a team that wasn’t Barcelona or Real Madrid won the title was Valencia in 2004. Coincidently the last time a team that wasn’t Man UTD or Chelsea lifted the Premier League was also 2004. If Premier League supporters place so much emphasis on unpredictability then the Bundesliga should be held in higher regard, there is a misconception in England that Munich dominate the German league. While they are the team that are consistently challenging at the top, they do not win the title as often as you may think. Premier League fans are often treated to surprise results, which are made out by pundits and fans to be a unique feature of the Premier League and a sign of how strong the lower teams are. I am here to burst a slight bubble with a few examples showing they do occur elsewhere as well. Newly promoted Cesena’s opening fixtures were Roma and Milan last season; they drew with Roma and beat Milan. Newly promoted Hercules had the audacity to beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp, and newly promoted Kaiserslautern beat Bayern Munich.
Finally we come to what I deem the most absurd boast of the Premier League, and that is the line ‘The most entertaining and exciting’. The reason I believe it is absurd is because entertainment and excitement are completely subjective. I would suggest that in terms of quality there isn’t really that much between the top four leagues in Europe at the moment. They are no better or worse than each other merely different, and so preference comes down to personal taste. The Premier League is physical, fast paced, but far less technical than the other leagues. La Liga is a reasonable pace but there is more emphasis on tactics and technique rather than pace, power, and fitness. Serie A is similar to Spain except the build ups are slower but more technical, and the defences are certainly stronger. The Bundesliga is a blend of all three and is perhaps most similar to the Premier League, but does boast great home grown talent and thus the competitiveness of the league is less based on revenues. A couple of good youth products and a good manager can have a massive impact in the Bundesliga. In my opinion the Premier League has had its worst season for some time; there was a real sense of mediocrity. UTD won the title without ever getting out of third gear, whilst Milan, Dortmund, and Barcelona played fantastic stuff for the majority of their campaigns.
It seems the Premier League can do no wrong in the eye of its beholders. And even if it isn’t fully convinced of its own boasts, if it just keeps saying the lines with enough conviction, no one will question it. Luckily for the Premier League the majority of English fans seem happy to judge other leagues without actually watching them, and relying on a few one off games in the Champions League to form their opinions.