At the close of last season, it was general consensus that the Premiership was the best league in the world, but now, with all three of the last European Footballers of the Year, as well the Champions League winners, has La Liga finally wrested the title back from English pretenders?
Watching the Cristiano Ronaldo unveiling ceremony for Real Madrid pretty much summed up the transfer window so far. The old king of Los Blancos, Alfredo Di Stefano, dutifully handed over the coveted No. 9 shirt to his rightful successor, while Eusebio could only stand and applaud at the spectacle being played out in front of him.
Meanwhile, a cheer rose up from the 80,000 awestruck fans who had waited over a year for this moment. “It’s amazing,” one man told the cameras. “I can’t believe this is really happening.”
And that’s the thing—the transfer window has been somewhat spectacular to the point of disbelief. Real destroying their own figure for world-record signing would have been astounding enough for any given summer, let alone the first since the credit crunch, but to do it twice was something unthinkable only a few months ago.
Florentino Perez has given us a show playing out in all the sports columns every bit as spectacular as Sunday’s in the Bernabéu, and it’s all so easy for us to get caught up in this kind of drama.
“La Liga has to be the greatest league in the world now,” one of my friends told me, watching the ceremony. “They have all three of the last European Footballers of the Year over there now.”
That was it; that was his mind all made up about the subject—something I heard Ronaldo echoed only a few hours later.
I don’t deny that La Liga certainly is in a much better position than it was only a few months ago. After all, Cristiano Ronaldo was probably the greatest player in the Premiership at the time of his transfer, and Kaka was probably the greatest player in Serie A at the time of his, and Lionel Messi—well, he’s probably the greatest player in the world.
Add to this the exodus of names apparently just waiting to join them in Spain: Franck Ribery, Javier Mascherano, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Maicon, Ashley Cole; I’ve not even started counting Dani Alves, Andres Iniesta, Xaxi, David Villa, David Silva, Iker Casillas, and the others already playing there—otherwise I’ll end up with a trouser accident.
But you have to understand, we are looking at the whole thing through Perez’s eyes. Take away all of his smoke and mirrors, and we see that the Premiership is in no way a spent force.
I’ll give you another list of names to consider: Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez, and Carlo Ancelotti.
Let’s look at the legacy of these four men—between them they have won 21 league titles, 16 domestic cup wins, and five Champions League titles.
Now compare this to the managers of last season’s top four Spanish teams, who between them have won one league title, one domestic cup win, and one Champions League title—and there are no prizes for guessing who they belong to.
I’m not saying that the managers in Spain are crap compared to their Premiership counterparts—no, that’s just heavily implied—but the fact of the matter is that managers in the Premiership have consistently proven themselves at the highest level.
As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the English dominance in the Champions League continue, which seems to be the test of choice of league strength for most broadcasters.
Although Madrid seem to have missed the memo concerning a certain global recession, financially La Liga is not in a healthier state than the Premiership.
If anything has shown us this, it is Valencia. The club which won the title only five years ago is now apparently so in far in debt that they have to sell their star players in order to make amends. The sad story of Los Che only serves to teach us how important financial guile and acumen are to the modern game.
In terms of business, English clubs lead the way once more. On last year’s club rich list (revenue), Premiership clubs accounted for seven of the 20 richest, whilst La Liga only had two.
In addition to this, increased foreign investment into the Premiership has ensured that it has stayed in a healthy state during this troubled time. This in turn enables teams to invest either in buying new players or in their academies, many of which are now considered among the best in Europe.
With Barca and Real now locked in some sort of footballing cold war, unless both teams play to only a small fraction of their potential, you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody seriously supporting another Spanish team for the title.
However, in the Premiership there’s already an established big four of clubs. Then there’s also Manchester City, who hope to blow the rest out of the water. Or is that buy the rest out of the water?
In either case, come August there will be at least four contenders for the English title, possibly five. Surely the number of title contenders increases the excitement of a league.
But it doesn’t matter what measure you use to measure the best league in the world—the winner is still the Premiership.