Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney or Samuel Eto'o: Who's in the Best Football League?

Ehab El JundiContributor IDecember 13, 2010

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 04:   Carlos Tevez of Manchester City has words with Manchester City Manager Roberto Mancini after being substituted for team mate James Milner during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers at the City of Manchester Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

One of the most exciting things about football, aside from kicking your rival's bottom on the field, is the debates and discussions it generates off the field.

Football fans around the world can go on for hours—over dinner, over a drink, during their cigarette breaks and while waiting for the bus—articulating their point of view on how they believe a certain something is a reality while their counterpart believes something completely different.

How many times did the ladies on your table lose interest and started looking for something to do while you and your pal were up each other's throats fighting it off on whether it's Messi or Ronaldo, Pele or Maradona, AC or Inter, Man U or The Citizens, The Gunners or the Reds? Countless, I'm sure. 

I think the main reason that makes these debates endless is the fact that everyone looks at football differently. You can watch a game with two friends and in the aftermath it will sound like they were watching two completely different matches. And so, as the title indicates, this is one more discussion that will definitely generate more arguments between the fans.

What Is the Best League in the World?

Questions like these never come trouble-free. Similarly, the answers never come politics-free. We all have our preferences, and that's all right. The English would argue that their Premier League is the best.

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They would use arguments like we have a quartet of contenders for the title every year, and that you can expect any team to beat any of the big four any day. This is what they call Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Apparently what Hercules did to Barcelona at the beginning of this season is something they willingly chose to forget.

On the other hand, the Spaniards will tell you that they have Real Madrid who won the Champions League nine times, and that they have Barcelona who is teaching everyone how to play football these days. They'll argue that they have all of those on the FIFA Balon d'Or list. Not only that. They also have Ronaldo, Villa, Casillas, Ramos, Oezil, Kaka, Di Maria, and more than a dozen of other stars.

So what do we do? How do we decide which domestic league is the best? Well, in my case, when debates become futile I resort to numbers. Solid figures and results that no one can argue with.

However, I have been previously accused of being too stat-oriented. It seems one just can't win. Nevertheless, I will use these facts and lay them down for you, and then, well, we can discuss it. 

But before I start let me explain my methodology; I decided to use some engineering sense and chop off most leagues from my study. Why? Well let's face it, the best leagues are in Europe, and out of Europe there are only a handful of countries who can claim a place on the podium.

Some of my fellow Jordanians would argue that the Jordanian league is good, and the mess that happened during Al Wihdat and Al Faisali match the other day is a proof of that, but I would put it down to sheer stupidity more than anything else. So my shortlist includes: England, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France.

Then, I look at six different criteria to pitch these leagues against each other.These criteria in order of importance are: UEFA ranking, Champions League's Honors, domestic league's competitiveness amongst league leader, the overall competitiveness of the league, Europa League Honors, and the number of top players playing in the competition. So let's break it down:

UEFA Coefficient

UEFA came up with this ranking system to allocate spots on their competitions to different countries based on their previous performances in the previous additions. It's an important parameter because it looks at the overall performance of the teams from a certain country in UEFA competitions.

The drag is that it goes back five years only. Therefore, and for our purposes we are missing the other five years of my 10-year span study, but don't despair, I'm making up for lost time in the next criterion.

  1. England: 80.78 pts
  2. Spain: 75.47
  3. Germany: 66.27
  4. Italy: 59.12
  5. France: 52.17

As you can see England wins the first round, by the virtue of that year where we had three English teams plus Barcelona in the UCL semi-final.

UEFA Champions Leagues Honors

This one compensates for the lost time. Who performed better in Europe's grandest competition over the past 10 years. I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that Italian teams who racked up three wins (AC Milan two, Inter one) and two second-place spots (AC Milan & Juventus) are the best performers. They are followed by both Spain (three champions, one runner up) and England (two champions, four runners-up). Germany comes fourth, and France is out. Portugal actually performed better, thanks to Mourinho.

League Competitiveness Among Team Leaders

The way to evaluate this is to look at how many different champions were there in the past 10 years. Many would argue that the Scottish league might as well be played in two-legged match between Celtic and Rangers because the other teams are just there to participate.

This accusation has been thrown in the Spaniards way quite frequently in recent years. Surprisingly, yet again, Germany tops the list with five different champions, followed by France and Italy who had four. England and Spain are joint fourth with only three different champions in the past 10 years. Therefore, the English has nothing on the Spaniards when it comes to the two-horse race accusation.

Overall League Competitiveness

I think it is important to remember that there are 20 teams in each of these leagues. These teams have aspirations and fans. Therefore, it is important to have the competition spread across the league. The closer these teams are together the more competitive the league is.

This is really simple math. Ever heard of Standard Deviation? Well, it is a formula to calculate how far a set of values are spread out from each other. Taking points collected by all 20 teams into consideration, the higher the SD the less competitive the league. I used for my calculations the standings from the latest completed season, which is 2009/2010. Here are the results:

  1. Germany: 13.37
  2. Italy: 14.74
  3. France: 15.10
  4. Spain: 18.60
  5. England: 18.87

Yet again, one more myth busted. England is not the most competitive league. It is in fact the least amongst the five. Spanish league comes at fourth place, while Germany tops one more list. This definitely doesn't mean that England is the worst league,but it firmly confirms that it is the least competitive.

Europa League Honors

I know that football fans and clubs alike usually look down on this competition. Still, it is an official UEFA competition, and it does reflect the quality of the second class teams when it is compared to the same class in other leagues. Therefore, I looked at it in a similar way as the UCL, only with less weight on the final result. Below are the results:

  1. Spain (4 winners, 2 runners-up)
  2. England (1 winner, 2 runners-up)
  3. Germany (2 runners-up)
  4. France (1 runner-up)
  5. Italy (Nil)

So, Spain wins one more list.

Number of Top Players in the League

This is basically for the fans. It's definitely more entertaining and interesting to watch games where the top players in the world are playing. It adds a spice to the league.

Think of how much debate and interest is generated for the Spanish league just by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Everybody watches to see how the competition between these two is going. Think of all magical moments you witness while watching top player.

In that aspect, a neutral fan will find the Spanish League or the English league a lot more interesting that the French or the German. It's the power of the stars. And so, for this parameter I used the most recent Castrol Ranking, which it seems is the most reliable way to evaluate players' performances. Take the top 100 players and see where they play. The league with the highest number of top 100 players wins.

  1. England: 35 players
  2. Spain: 31
  3. Germany: 15
  4. Italy: 12
  5. France: 7

Here's another surprise for you. Despite the fact that the three finalists of this year's Ballon d'Or play in Spain, and more specifically in Barcelona, England has more players among the top 100 in the world. The Castrol ranking gives a similar view at the top, the top three play in Spain, only this time Iniesta and Xavi are replaced by Ronaldo and Higuain.

To decide how to make a result out of all the information above is just another debate that probably won't stop, but I decided to take my chances anyway and use my weighting system. The details of all these formulas will take a long time to explain so I will I won't go through the details now, I'll share my results though.


  1. Spain: 393 pts
  2. England: 392
  3. Germany: 370
  4. Italy: 345
  5. France: 188

It's a very close battle, as you can see. Spain barely edges out England at the top, while the Germans, always very effective, are pretty much close.

There are other factors that I didn't consider. The media plays a big part in it. For example, the English league is given more space and coverage on ESPN, and probably in most English-speaking countries.

In UAE, where I live, Aljazeera sports is the TV station that broadcasts UCL games. There are two technical studios to analyze the matches on every UCL night, one in Arabic and the other in English. as long as an English team plays, no matter who the opponent is, the English technical studio will always talk in depth about the English team's match. The hosts are Gary Leineker, Steve McManaman and some older English players and managers that I don't remember the names of.   

I'd like to see your view on this, so please share your view with us on the poll attached to the article.