Premier League: Is the EPL Weaker Than La Liga and the Bundesliga?
Throughout the rise of the British Empire, the crowned lion was symbol of global power, influence and prestige.
As the empire started to decline in the 20th century, however, satirical cartoons started appearing of the famous big cat with its teeth pulled out.
The same crowned lion that adorns the Premier League logo may soon be subject to the same undignified dental work. The league that once ruled the world appears to be losing its grip.
Since its inception in 1992, the Premier League has been an unparalleled commercial success. It has the largest worldwide audience of any league (measured at 4.7 billion last season), it has attracted the top talent, and its clubs enjoy the biggest payouts through TV rights (next season the 20 teams will share a phenomenal £5 billion).
English clubs have also been synonymous with success. Seven of the last eight Champions League finals have featured English sides, while in 2007 and 2008, three of the four semifinalists were from the Land of Hope and Glory.
But just as Serie A was dethroned as the best league in Europe, 2013 may be the year that the balance of power gently moves away from the Premiership.
The English top flight's pride was wounded at the Ballon d'Or awards earlier this month. Just five of the 23 shortlisted Ballon d'Or candidates were Premier League players. The FIFA/FIFPro World XI side—voted for only by professionals in the game—contained only La Liga players.
Yet there really can be no arguments. It was a fair vote among players and coaches, who collectively concluded that La Liga is the best league in the world right now.
The English league has taken a similar snubbing in the recently announced UEFA.com users' Team of the Year 2012. For the third consecutive year, the fan-voted team features eight La Liga players. It also has representatives from Italy, Germany and France. For the first time ever, there are no Premier League players in the line-up.
Perhaps the biggest dagger in the Premier League's conceited heart has come this week, with the announcement of Pep Gardiola's future plans. The celebrated Spaniard has snubbed the Premier League to take the helm at Bayern Munich.
Pep has chosen a club who have appeared in two of the last three Champions League finals, who are owned by members, who play in a financially stable league, who are dominant in that league and whose strong emphasis on youth policy echoes his former employer, Barcelona.
When comparing those benefits to the poisoned chalice of Chelsea management and the myriad controversies of the Premier League, the Catalan's decision seems like a no-brainer.
So, based on the snubs of Guardiola, FIFPro and UEFA.com's users, both the Bundesliga and La Liga are better than the Premier League.
But are they stronger, or more entertaining? For some statistical insight, I looked at the average goals scored by the top and bottom three teams in each league so far in 2012-13:
As you can see, the teams at the bottom and the top in England and Germany have near-identical goal-scoring averages, suggesting similar strength throughout both leagues.
However, teams at the top and bottom of La Liga are scoring more goals, which suggests it is more entertaining.
In terms of strength, all four Spanish sides in the Champions League have progressed to the knockout stages of the 2012-13 Champions League. All three German sides have also progressed and have topped their respective groups.
Manchester City fans will need no reminding that only two of the Premiership's four representatives have made it through this season.
The Bundesliga is enjoying a particularly strong year in Europe: For the first time ever, they have seven sides competing in continental competitions after Christmas, as Bayer Leverkusen, Hannover 96, VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Mönchengladbach have all progressed in the Europa League.
Germany is the only country with all its teams still fighting in European competition, and thus are the best-represented country in Europe this season.
When Life's a Pitch asked some of England's top journalists if the Premier League was still the best in the world last year, John Cross of the Daily Mirror and David Walker of the Sunday Mirror both concurred that La Liga is of a higher calibre. Cross said:
While I think we do have a very tight, competitive league, which is great to watch, I think Spain are pulling away from us a little bit.
With the FIFA World XI, Leo Messi's record-breaking dominance and continuing reign of the Spanish national team, one can only imagine that Spain have pulled away even further since he made those comments.
The Premier League remains an exciting, fast-paced and highly watchable league. It still continues to pull in record viewing figures. But history has shown that no league can be the best in Europe forever.
At some point, the British lion's crown has to slip. Based on recent evidence, we may soon look back on 2013 as the beginning of the fall of the Premier League Empire.
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