…it’s not even the best in England!
At every opportunity, Sky Sports promote the Premier League as the greatest league in the world. It’s merits are compared to that of Europe’s other top leagues, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, etc, with the conclusion that in terms of excitement, passion and competitiveness, England’s top division rules.
But, as I sat watching Swansea City and Nottingham Forest contest the Play-Off semi-final in swashbuckling fashion, I realised that they were wrong. The Premier League isn’t even the best league in England. The Championship is where it’s at.
At first glance, the Premier League looks competitive. Everyone can beat anyone and a handful of teams are capable of winning the league. As a Liverpool season-ticket holder, I know that on closer inspection this isn’t really the case. In the last seven seasons, only Manchester United and Chelsea have won the league. Go back another 12 years, to the start of the Premier League era and only Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers can be added to the winners list. The destination of the title has an air of predictability similar to that in Spain or Scotland.
In reality the league is split into four groups. United and Chelsea battle it out for the silverware, with maybe Arsenal pushing them. The next group including City, Spurs and Liverpool, battle for European places. The likes of Everton, Fulham, Stoke, Villa, Newcastle, etc are mid-table, leaving the rest to battle it out to stave off the threat of relegation. Of course, there are the freak results like Wolves beating Utd, Sunderland hammering Chelsea and West Brom defeating Arsenal, but invariably, the favourites win. In terms of excitement, I feel this is over-exaggerated. With the price of failure so high, teams often set-out to not get beat rather than to win, resulting in drab affairs. Only when teams are let off the leash does the excitement appear.
Compare this to the Championship. Consisting of 24 teams, each team play 8 more games than a Premier League side. With the end-of-season Play-offs, positions down to 6th-place offer rewards and prolong seasons. With budgets across the division, QPR aside, more in-line with each other, more teams are at similar levels. In the season just gone, the likes of Leeds United, Burnley, Leicester City and Millwall all narrowly missed reaching the play-offs.
As stated earlier, the cost of failure in the Premier League is high. In the Championship, it is the other way around. The financial reward for a team achieving promotion is massive, so sides are encouraged to go for the win.
Another factor why I rate the Championship so highly is down to the influx of the foreign players into the Premier League. As more players are brought in from overseas, the young English players are shipped out to the Championship. One of the stars of this season, Swansea’s Scott Sinclair, was deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea, but has now developed into one of the country’s most exciting young talents. The loan market also allows Championship sides to boost their squads with players from the fringes of the Premier league squads. Norwich City finished runners-up to QPR with a squad enhanced by young talent such as Lansbury and Pacheco. Even the likes of Craig Bellamy and David James have added to the Championship talent this year.
As well as the players, the Championship is a breeding ground for up-coming managers. Wigan’s Roberto Martinez cut his teeth at Swansea, with Brendan Rogers, Paul Lambert, Bryan McDermott, etc, all looking to follow the Spaniard’s lead.
All this combined with the atmosphere generated at Championship games, where ex-Premier League teams like Leeds United still attract over 30,000 crowds, mean that in my eyes the only highlights show to watch on a Saturday night is The Football League Show.
And if you are still not convinced, sit-back and watch the cherry on the icing of the cake, the Play-offs. A winner takes all battle. The 2nd leg at the Liberty Stadium was arguably the best game I have watched this season, live or on TV. End-to-end, full of passion and commitment, a vociferous crowd, near misses and cracking goals. You would be hard-pressed to better it. And that was just a semi-final. In two weeks time, Swansea will face Reading at Wembley in the Play-Off Final. The mouth waters in anticipation. It will be a fitting end to another magnificent season in the real “Best league in the World”.