It is a question that football fans have been asking for years and the answer has always been: “of course”. However, the footballing world is changing year upon year and has the penny finally dropped? Is the Premier League no longer the greatest?
The decline of English teams in Europe is obvious if you examine the UEFA Champions League. There has not been an English finalist since Chelsea in 2012. This is the longest ‘drought’ of English teams in the final since 2003 and this clearly raises concerns for the English game. The Premier League has only provided three winners in the past ten years compared to Spain’s five in the same time period, and Germany’s sides have made four finals. Is this down to lack of talent, failing to adapt to recent European football or have other nations advanced whilst we in England have plateaued? Earlier this year, Jamie Carragher said: “At the minute, we don’t have the strength and depth of other leagues on the continent.”
You can also compare the Barclays Premier League with the La Liga top scorers. The last time a BPL top scorer outdid the Liga BBVA was the 2007-08 season when Cristiano Ronaldo bagged 31 goals in the campaign in comparison to Dani Güiza’s 27. Since then the La Liga top scorers have managed to score 32, 34, 40, 50, 46, 31 and 48 respectively whilst in the Premier League we have only managed 19, 29, 20, 30, 26, 31 and 26. Is this because of the lack of competition in Spanish football or are their attacking players simply better than ours?
Similarly, a Premier League player hasn’t won the Ballon d’Or since Manchester United’s world-class former number seven in 2008. In fact, ever since then, the top three have all played in La Liga with the exception of Frank Ribéry and Manuel Neuer, who both placed third in 2013 and 2014 respectively. This suggests that the decline of the Premier League is down to lack of truly elite players playing in England.
Despite all of this, few will argue that any other division is better for drama and unpredictability than the Premier League. Where else do you see teams escaping relegation on the final day of the season? Where else will the title come down to the last kick of the final game? And where else will you see the defending champions down near the relegation zone? In England, anyone can beat anyone. That is what makes fans go to the stadiums as well as watching the games at home. Sky TV spent £5 billion for the Premier League TV rights and you can see why, but is the amount of money in English football ruining the international team?
I don’t think many will deny the statement that England have grossly underachieved in the last few years. The Three Lions have failed to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup since 2006 and didn’t even get past the group stages in 2014’s competition. This is not just in the recent past either, with England not making it to the semi-final stages of a major tournament since 1996. This raises the question – what is the problem with the national team? The simple answer is that we are simply not producing enough quality and this is potentially down to the lack of English players regularly playing in the Premier League. There is currently a rule in place that teams in the EPL must have at least 8 ‘home grown’ players in their 25 man-squad. This has been the FA’s attempt at improving the national team. However, this ‘home grown’ rule doesn’t state that players must be English, they simply have to be training in England for three years prior to their 21st birthday. This means that the England squad will not necessarily be improved.
Let us not forget the way fans are treated; the men and women who have stood by their team for years and spent crazy amounts of money following their team around the country. You can purchase a season ticket at Barcelona for £73. Nowhere in the Premier league can you get a season ticket at that price, the cheapest on these shores is Stoke City for £294, a huge 4 times more expensive than the best team in Spain! Fans are also seemingly being punished for following their team to away games. Arsenal charge anywhere up to £64 to watch their team at the Emirates. These issues will all be addressed in time but until then, fans will continue to pay to support their cub.
So is the Premier League the best league? In terms of talent, not by a long shot. But for entertainment value? Absolutely.
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