The Barclays Premier League: overhyped or justifiably praised?

by Conor Clancy

I can guarantee that every single one of you will have heard at least once that the Barclays Premier League is ‘The best league in the world.’ Whether or not you agree with this statement is entirely up to yourself. I, personally, do not subscribe to this belief whatsoever. I do not feel it is possible to label one league as definitively being the standalone best. This view, that the Premier League is the best is, in my opinion, one of extreme arrogance. Throughout this piece, I will make comparisons between the Premier League and the other major top divisions of European football. Depending on how it goes, I may even touch on South America.

The Premier League is an undeniably fantastic league. Before I get into this I want to clarify that I do love the league for what it is and obviously agree that it is one of the finest divisions our sport has to offer. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly is up there as one of the best, but to say it’s the best is a step too far. In what category is it superior to other leagues? Entertainment? Unpredictability? Value for money? Quality of football? Quality of teams or players? You can perhaps place a tick after entertainment but there is still a case to be argued against that. Unfortunately for the Premier League, all the other boxes have to be filled with a big red ‘X’.

Firstly, surely the ‘best league in the world’ must have the best team in the world, right? The Premier League cannot boast of this. I don’t think it’s too outrageous for me to say that not only the best team, but the two best teams in the world are both feathers in the hypothetical cap of Spain’s La Liga: Real Madrid and Barcelona. Everybody has their own opinion as to which of the two is superior, but I feel it is widely accepted that these two are head and shoulders above the rest. The Spanish top tier can also boast that it is home to unquestionably the two greatest players currently playing the game – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. You can also throw in Andrés Iniesta and Xavi for good measure. As well as a prosperous present, La Liga can also claim to house the most successful club in the history of the European Cup – Real Madrid, who have won the trophy a phenomenal nine times.

The Premier League is also an extremely predictable league. For years the so called ‘Big Four’ were seemingly untouchable at the summit of English football with the exception of Liverpool who dropped out briefly to be temporarily replaced by Everton for a season. There have only ever been five winners of the league: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Blackburn and Manchester City. Compare this to France’s Ligue 1. This is a league which admittedly is inferior in quality to the English, and I am not suggesting that it is a better league, but it has had as many winners in the last five years as the Premier League has since it commenced. It is likely to become six winners in six years this season as PSG look to take the reigns and dominate French football. Since 2007, Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille, Lille and Montpellier have all had there hands on the domestic league trophy. Since the Premier League began, Paris Saint-Germain, Nantes, Auxerre, Monaco and Lens have also claimed to be the French champions. What I’m trying to get across here is, in the amount of time that five teams have won the Premier League, twice as many teams have won Ligue 1. Making it a much more open, unpredictable, and therefore exciting league, it could be argued.

One major problem that I have with the Premier League is that there is a lot of utter rubbish in it. If you exclude a few teams: the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, Newcastle and Swansea, the remainder consists of mainly atrocious footballing sides who are in no way enjoyable to watch. If each club in the Premier League were to play the teams in their respective positions in the other major leagues, I know who my money would be on for the majority – and it would not be the English representatives. Just look at one example that springs to mind – Villareal. The Yellow Submarine finished 18th in La Liga last year. Imagine a hypothetical situation in which Villareal at any stage of last season were to play against Bolton Wanderers. Who would you expect to win that game? No further comment.

As far as the quality of football is concerned, take away Arsenal, Tottenham and Swansea (and obviously a few others) the Premier League really hasn’t got much else to offer. There is a clutter of teams with little or no technical ability such as Stoke City (apologies Matthew Etherington.) The likes of Serie A and La Liga have an abundance of technically gifted players within every club. It is a completely different game to that in England. A game based primarily on the ability of the teams and players with the ball at their feet, unlike the Premier League where the clichéd ‘Sam Allardyce type team’ can prosper. The game in these countries where it is based on technical attributes is a much better game in my opinion, and I, personally, find it much more appealing to watch.

Serie A receives a lot of undue criticism. I am not trying to claim that it is hands down superior to our beloved league, but I have to be honest and say I definitely enjoy it more. Perhaps this is because it doesn’t break my heart on a regular basis, as I do not ‘support’ a team in it the way I do in England. This allows me to enjoy the league from a completely neutral perspective and perhaps if I could view the Premier League in a similar light I may not be as critical as I am. I realise that the Italian style of football is not everybody’s figurative cup of tea, but it absolutely engrosses me on a weekly basis. That is, most likely because I am, in the words of Marcus Speller, a “tactical pervert.” I love witnessing vigorous tactical battles between two of football’s heavyweights. It fascinates me. It is, at times, like watching a game of chess with a ball thrown in just to add to the fun. Again, I completely see why this may not appeal to you, but I’m sure I’m not in isolation when I say that Serie A is the league that I most enjoy watching that I do not have any real emotional attachment to.

I didn’t even mention South America thus far in this piece but the Argentinian and Brazilian leagues respectively are also brilliantly unpredictable. Many of you may think that Santos and Corinthians are the two best teams in Brazil. This is not true. Santos, including Neymar and Ganso currently lie 11th in Brazil’s Serie A while South American Champions Corinthians are sitting in 9th. All that needs to be said about Argentina is that River Plate have been relegated in recent years. Yes, River Plate, the club that many football fans think fight head-to-head with Boca on a yearly basis to become Argentina’s top club.

All I wanted to really get across in this piece was that you cannot simply define one league as being the greatest. The recent Sky Sports driven hype is without doubt the major force behind this widespread belief that the Premier League is without doubt the ‘greatest league of any sport ever seen in the history of the universe’, but just look into it a little more before you hop on their overwhelmingly large bandwagon. Don’t be afraid to explore various leagues and to open your eyes and mind to what football has to offer beyond your preferred team’s domestic league.

I beg you all, spread your knowledge. Sample leagues you have never experienced before. I did last year with South America and have since stayed up past 3 in the morning just to watch Boca or the Copa Libertadores online. Be adventurous, if you do and still think the Premier League is the league for you, fair enough, at least you tried. But please don’t be another one of those lazy stereotypical ‘Sky Sports football fans’ who watch the Premier League with rose tinted spectacles and refuse to venture out of their comfort zone.

Explore the world of football, you will not regret it.

3 Responses

  1. Alan Moore Alan Moore says:

    Conor, a good piece, well thought out and some good points. However your own bias shows through in the most telling way. You start out to make a comparison between the Premier League and the “other major top divisions of European football”, yet fall down. Last I remember, Germany would be just slightly ahead of France and if you covered it, would lend so much to your argument. The quality of football, the tactics, the atmosphere, the competition for top spot, all outshine the Premier League, not to mention the value for money for supporters. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and while some would sneer at the LOI, these same people would not darken the door of a proper football ground. Football is football and the more honesty is used (as you’ve done) in dealing with the facts, then there will be a better appreciation all around. Good luck in Uni!

    1. Conor Clancy Conor Clancy says:

      Hi Alan, thanks for reading and commenting first of all. Secondly, I had notes made out and everything on the Bundesliga but misplaced them and only realised they were missing mid-way through writing and it was gone midnight. So laziness and sloppiness was the reason for it’s exclusion. I absolutely agree with what you said and they should have been included, I fully intended to as I said. The Bundesliga is fantastic and I had planned on focusing on the value for money aspect as ticket prices in Germany put The PL to shame. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Alan Moore Alan Moore says:

    Conor, your piece is good without the added Bundesliga, I got some good comments back from friends (EPL and SL fans) about it and they largely agree with you. It’s a pity the Irish media isn’t as intelligent in their dissection of the leagues across the water as I really believe it will lead to at least some people opening their eyes to other leagues and even our own. It’s as cheap, or cheaper, to head to Germany for a league match and far better value. Who knows, it may catch on! Keep up the good work!

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