While watching the Euro 2012 Final, a pub debate broke out among my friends.
Spain were the best national team in the world—and had been for some time—but would they be better if they could select any players from La Liga, rather than those of just Spanish origin? If so, which non-Spaniards would they pick?
After a few beers, we concurred that the Spanish team would only need to take on Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi (perhaps Cesc Fabregas and David Silva would have made way for them at the Euros).
That team, we decided, would be truly unbeatable.
The debate then expanded to the England team. How many of the Three Lions would survive if a Premier League XI were played? Outside of Joe Hart and Ashley Cole, we were struggling for answers.
Following the announcement of the FIFA World XI, the league XI debate has now come to the forefront in the European press. Many feel that the FIFPro selection is far too biased towards Spain, with all 11 of its members playing in La Liga (10 of them at Barcelona and Real Madrid).
With an immediate reaction to the World XI, The Daily Mail proposed a match between La Liga's finest and a Premier League XI. Their columnists all picked their preferred Premiership selections, with the likes of Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie, Vincent Kompany, and Marouane Fellaini featuring heavily.
Spanish newspaper Marca then reacted to the battle of the leagues by polling their readership. More than 91 percent of 81,000 respondents decided the La Liga XI would "thrash" their Premier League counterparts.
The Daily Mail responded once again by running a simulation of a Premier League XI and a La Liga XI. It turns out the Marca readers were right, as the Spanish offering won the simulation 2-0.
The domestic league debate has now widened beyond an Anglo-Spanish confrontation, as German website Spox.com has offered up its Bundesliga XI.
The three XIs are shown here:
(Interestingly, the Bundesliga side shows a near identical bias to the top two teams as the Spanish one: Only Bayer Leverkusen's Lars Bender does not play for Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich.)
The pan-European interest in this debate poses an interesting-yet-controversial question: Would it be better if top flight XIs played each other instead of national teams?
In an age of increasing globalisation and cosmopolitanism—and less emphasis on borders and boundaries between nations—is a league XI more relevant to the modern football fan?
Perhaps more importantly, would it be more entertaining?
For English fans, it certainly would improve the standard of international competition! Showcasing the finest players in the Premier League would become a celebration of the kind of talent the English top flight can attract.
Non-domestic players could be selected for their decision to embrace the game in their host country, rather than being confined to the country of their birthright.
This debate has shown there is certainly an appetite for league XI competitions, and it is one that has been satiated in the past. In 1987, the English Football League celebrated it's century by pitting a Football League XI against a World XI that included Diego Maradona and Michel Platini. As you can see below, the English side won 3-0.
Many will argue that the tradition of national team competition could never be replaced by league XIs. The patriotism one feels for one's national team may not translate to the pride of seeing one's top flight represented on the international stage.
But a competition involving league XIs could still have a place in the game. What if, for example, a league XI competition determined the amount of Champions League berths awarded to each nation?
What if Europe's top leagues put on an exhibition tournament in the summers without a World Cup or a European Championship?
For now, the league XI debate is confined to pub banter and bickering European news outlets. But if the top national football associations feel like putting on an experiment this summer—Confederations Cup allowing—it would certainly generate a lot of attention.