Is It Now Safe to Say That England's Premier League is the Third Best Domestic League in the World?

Moses Mabhida Stadium Durban Germany v Spain Match 62 07/07/2010 Bastian Schweinsteiger (GER) Xabi Alonso, Pedro (SPA) Photo Roger Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

As I sat watching the opening minutes of Wednesday’s World Cup semi final between Spain and Germany, easily two of the top five teams in the world battling on the biggest stage in world football, I quickly noticed a trend within the match that may go on to answer the question posed as the headline of this article.

Having caught my favorite part of the pre game introduction, the tactical lineups, I quickly noticed that each starting player (exception – 1) for the respective countries is a current product of that country’s domestic league thus lending fact to the theory that those two domestic leagues spoken of would be the two best leagues in the world. Keep in mind we are talking about a World Cup semi final here.

The Germans all (OK, let’s pretend you’re reading this pre June, 2010 as Jerome Boateng has just completed a move to Manchester City) receive their wages from the Bundesliga, a league that has oh so much right going for it – cost of admission, terraces, grab a beer at the match and financial security. The starting Spaniard’s all kick a ball in La Liga – arguably the world’s most technically brilliant league with two massive clubs.

At first glance, this moment of realization struck me as a bit odd as I pondered where all the players from “the best league in the world”, the Barclays (England’s) Premier League were. Only Spain’s Fernando Torres (Liverpool), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), immortal bench warmer Pepe Reina (Liverpool) and yes now David Silva (Manchester City – is there anyone they’re not trying to buy?) represented the Premier League. Not a one of them in the starting line up.

These variables led me to ask myself if  it was now safe to assume that the Premier League in actuality is the world’s third best domestic league, a sign of the league’s waning tide. Or, is the fact that three out of four semi final teams who aren’t largely composed of Premier League players (either didn’t start or don’t have Premier League players on the roster) a simple coincidence that means little in the grand scheme of club football?

Now the point here isn’t anymore drivel about how the English players were bad playing for England. That topic has been written about in depth and change is needed, we can all agree on that. But my reason for writing this post is more of a look at the skill the Premier League continues, or for that matter doesn’t continue to draw in. How did the Premier League fall so far behind? Was it bad decision making in signing new talent, or a series of unfortunate and unforeseen events that caused the Premier League to miss out on the Mesut Ozil’s and Wesley Sneijder’s of the world?

Why now are we seeing the trend of the world’s top stars fleeing the Premier League like some petty bank robber making a get away? In recent years, Cristiano Ronaldo, KaKa, Ronaldinho, Cesc Fabregas, Arjen Robben, Xabi Alonso, and more have all either left, spoken of their desire to leave or snubbed a potential move to supposedly the world’s best league for other leagues in continental Europe – a disheartening trend in and of itself.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Premier League is my favorite league for various reasons – a sure idea for another post – but what I’m trying to say is now, more than ever, the depth of good talent in other leagues across Europe is more transparent than ever, and the English media, pundits, TV programs and fans of the Premier League should start to show respect for these very leagues as they are due it.

Now is a time of tactics, of ball retention, skill on the ball, passing and so much more than the Premier League’s brutal physicality and full throttle style that continues to entertain all of us week in week out. For all it’s strengths, the Premier League lacks a profusion of technically gifted footballers, passers of the ball and quick passing maestros like those of the Bundesliga and La Liga.

Until England, a national team comprised entirely of Premier League players, progresses to a World Cup or Euro semi final or final, wins a major competition, or the Premier League is somehow able to pry the best Germans, Spanish and various South Americans away from the leagues and clubs they now represent, then and only then will the Premier League be able to reclaim their crown as the world’s best league. It’s just that simple.

64 thoughts on “Is It Now Safe to Say That England's Premier League is the Third Best Domestic League in the World?”

  1. So you discount all the Champions League wins/final appearances/semis.
    Many argue the CL has better quality teams in it than the World Cup these days. Your argument is flawed here.
    Surely the Champions League is the barometer of the best league in the world. At the very least you have to weight it highly.

    1. If you count Champions league winners than in the past 25 years:

      Italy 7 times winners
      Spain 6 time winners
      Germany, Portugal and England 2 time winners and Englands both came down to PK’s.

      Not sure how it relates but it’s not in the EPLs favor :-)

      EPL – Best top-bottom competition. Most competitive amonst the leagues.
      Liga – Top players in the world and the most technically sound league.
      Bundesliga – Honestly, I don’t know too much about this league but it might be the best run league in the world and the best at producing and keeping their countries best talent.

      1. There are lies, damned lies, and statistics …
        I would look at the last 5-10 years if you want to make a current argument.

        For example I dont look at the Buffalo Bills 4 consecutive Superbowl losses 20 years ago as a barometer of the AFC East today.

        1. So… Italy and Spain 2 a piece and England 1 on PKs?

          Granted England has more appearances but at the end of the day it’s about winning to make that argument.

          Again, I say that the EPL is the best league, but that’s based on being the most competitive not having the best talent. It’s the blend of very very good talent and great competition.

          1. I would also throw in semi appearances, final appearances – just counting wins forgoes all the work a league’s teams do in the tournament.
            We are both probably in agreement though.

          2. Simon,

            You can’t keep throwing around England has “one on PK’s”, as if England barely scraped a championship out against another league and therefore diminishes that win…both teams were English in that final, I would say that 1 for England is more impressive than the other league’s wins.

            Also, England has had 6 teams in the final in the last 6 years. Italy 3, Spain 2 and Germany 1.


          3. ‘both teams were English in that final, I would say that 1 for England is more impressive than the other league’s wins.’

            Rubbish Pat. La Liga had an all La Liga final in 2000, and likewise Serie A for 2003. So, England did nothing new in having an all-country CL Final. Try and learn the facts please.

      2. Jason –

        England are three times winners. 1999 and 2008 (Man United) and 2005 (Liverpool). Not to mention Chelsea’s 5 consecutive semifinal appearance and one final appearance in that stretch.

        1. Patrick,

          Simon requested 5 years as a recent pool to consider.

          I have addressed the appearances point. If you consider appearances a success than yes your point is valid. However, to make the point for a league when one squad keeps “making it” kind of defeats the purpose of the argument for the “best league”

          1. England’s successes have been varied, Liverpool, United, Arsenal and Chelsea have all made the final in the last 5 years. THey have notched up 2 wins in recent memory.
            For me Barcelona are the best club side in the world and by some distance. One club, or even 2 with Madrid is hardly a good league. Those 2 teams finished so far ahead of third that it was almost Scottish.

      3. Aside from your count being wrong, the last 25 years includes 6 seasons where English teams were banned from European competition.

  2. Excellent article….but the EPL IS the best league….just ask them!!!

    Kidding aside, it has been this way for a few years. While the Bundesliga and La Liga were becoming a league of sound, fundamental football, the EPL was burying itself under HUGE contracts to overpriced prima donnas.

    Its the old joke—if you cant spot the sucker at the table, you are the sucker. EPL….you are the sucker.

    1. Right, La Liga carries no debt. Are you kidding? That league is under a mountain of debt, probably worse than the EPL.

      Barcelona just ran to the bank again to borrow 150 million more euros to help buy Villa and possible Fabregas. Get real, La Liga is a two-team league and the rest are just filler. Kind of like the SPL.

      1. Absolutely. As much as I want my United to win every single league game, watching such a league would be awfully boring… much like La Liga.
        If there is no fear of losing and disappointment, what’s the point of sports?

      2. ‘Get real, La Liga is a two-team league and the rest are just filler’

        If you think the likes of Villarreal and Valencia are poor teams there’s no hope for you as a football fan I am afraid. Typical myopic Englishman.

  3. Your theory is flawed because the majority of the Ger/Esp starters play for Barcelona, Real Madrid, & Bayern Munich. 1-2 teams great does not make a league great.

    1. Sorry Scott, you’re wrong on this one.

      Germany has 8 from Bayern and 13 from others in Germany. That’s not a majority.

      I’ll give you Spain and I’d be the first to tell you that is the lease balanced league from top to bottom in terms of competition.

      1. His argument works just as well if you replace “majority” with “plurality.” The semantics of a majority aside, Scott’s point is that these teams draw disproportionately from a few sides, and we should not infer the greatness of a league from the quality of only a couple of sides.

        Of course, I think that also includes a couple of national sides. I’m not sure we can learn much of anything about the greatness of a league from watching a few games in the World Cup. The sample size is too small, and the facts aren’t straight. We don’t get any data about other teams in the competition, and the percentage of players who play for various teams, nor any data about the percentage of foreign players in the EPL. We get a biased sample (Spain and Germany), based only on their victories in a couple of games. If a couple of breaks go Paraguay’s way, could the same argumentative strategy be used to argue that Spain’s league is third best?

        The point being, of course, that single results hinge on the slimmest of margins, and we ought to be careful about how much we infer about the true talent level of a team from them. If that’s the case, then we have no justifiable reason for looking only at Spain and Germany to make this point – it is simply insufficient (and unrepresentative) evidence for the type of generalizations the author wants to make.

        1. Thanks for expanding on my point jm. Jason you’re right, but I was specifically referring to starters. Germany normally start 5 Bayern players in the outfield- Klose, Schweinsteiger, Muller, Lahm, and Badstuber…not a majority, but damn close.

          Ultimately, I think we’re all on the same page here. Great competition throughout a league is what makes it great, not a wealth of talent stockpiled at one or two clubs.

  4. Until a third horse enters the race in La Liga, EPL will always be better overall.

    While the talent might not be there yet, the Bundesliga has done everything right and will pass the EPL within the decade.

  5. I’d say the Premier League, talent-wise is the equal to LaLiga and better than the Bundesliga.

    However, if you ponder who are the best players in the EPL you get a real mix of international talent from non-traditional world cup powers and the occasional Spaniard (Torres) and a few from England (Rooney, various and sundry Coles). While if you subtract the occasional South American the Spanish and German leagues have greater domestic talent than England AND, importantly, they all seem to play on only one or two clubs in each of those leagues. It has to help Spain to have the line-up comprised of Barca and Real Madrid and the Germans to have a glorified Bayern Munich lineup.

  6. Why does Germany getting to the semi finals mean that their league is any better than it was a month ago? Also why does England only getting to the last 16 mean that their league is any worse than it was a month ago?
    The English league is far more than the English players that play in it. I would take the top 8 clubs in England over the top 8 clubs from any other league in the world and that includes la Liga, that is why I know where I stand on where the Prem is in the rankings.
    Not that this matters anyway, you should watch the teams and the players you want to watch, no matter which league they are from.
    I like to watch the Prem and it wouldn’t matter to me if the league was ranked 5th and not 1st like it is.
    As far as the Bundesliga is concerned the real argument should be whether it is better than the French league or the Italian league, not whether it is better than the current top 2 which are the Prem 1st and La Liga 2nd.
    I think the lastest stats had the Prem ranked 1st and the Bundesliga ranked 4th, do you not think it would be better to consider whether it has gone in front of Seria A into 3rd before you ask whether it has gone ahead of the Prem into 1st?

    1. I agree that the top 8 from England are better than any others top 8 and that’s why I believe the EPL is the best league. However, like you I judge how great a league is based on parity of competition.

      1. I would go with a combination of parity of competition, butts in seats, talent on the pitch, and International Club success. Germany has passed England in two of those four.

  7. What qualifies as “best”? If your interested in leagues with 2 great teams where no one else has a shot to make it because those two best teams throw there money around like Man City each year to buy their countries national team then the likes of Spanish club football are for you. If you enjoy watching football that resembles a steel cage match then the Bundisliga is just fine “though I wouldnt want to watch any game with that dolphin Robben splashing around on the green sea all game long”. But if you want to watch games with very skilled players you watch the top 8 teams in the premiership, if you like a scrappy competition you watch the bottom 4 clubs and its a crap shoot between beauty and brutality in between which is why the premiership is the best league in the world.

  8. Of course, while we debate whether the Bundesliga, LaLiga, or the EPL is the best league, the Champions League was one by a SerieA side.

    …of course, it is the Italian league team without many Italians on it…

  9. To have this argument we need to define “best.”

    Does the EPL have the best teams right now?
    No that’s probably Barcelona, Bayern, and Inter right now.

    Does the EPL have the best players?
    Not sure on this one?

    Does the EPL play the most exciting football?
    Depends on your taste but most people would say yes or they would say its second to the bundesliga.

    Is the EPL have the most competitive balance?

    Of course there is a big 4 most leagues have a big two maybe three. Not only that the EPL has high quality if not huge teams such as Everton, Spurs, and Villa. Not only that Man City is pushing for top tier status. That gives the EPL 8 teams that our worth watching on a consistent basis. No other league comes close. Not only that the mid level teams are far more exciting to watch then those in other leagues. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t rather watch a Sunderland v West Ham fixture over a Chievo v. Siena fixture.

    In conclusion the only other league that is even close is the German league. I think that sometimes when we have this argument about best leagues we end up starting to talk about which leagues have the best teams that is a much different question. If we are looking purely at best league to follow (not teams) EPL takes the cake bar none.

    1. Great post and exactly the point I’ve been trying to make but it seems you have found the words better than I can. :-)

    2. agree with everything except I think maybe you’re defining best teams too narrowly, if Chelsea and Man U struggle for more than a year, yes go ahead and kick them out of the discussion but Chelsea have made at least the semi-finals of Champions League all but 2 years and both times that was to the winner. actually since 2003-2004 Chelsea have lost to the CL winner every year except ’03-04 & ’06-07 when they lost to the runnerup

      1. sorry that should have read, but Chelsea have made at least the semi-finals of Champions League all but 2 years since 2003-04

  10. To me you almost have to put an asterisk next to Barcelona and Real Madrid. The different revenue system in Spain, and them not needing to share television money with teams in their league (or in lower leagues like Serie A) give them a HUGE monetary advantage.

    I mean all of those players leaving were going to two clubs. Of the great Spanish side you’re talking about, only Capdevilla played for a team other than Real or Barcelona.

    La Liga is just too top heavy for me to consider it better than the EPL and I don’t think that gets factored into discussions like this enough.

  11. I think a few people made the point before I was able to but here goes anyway:

    I consider the EPL to be the “best” league because the league has the most quality. Spain and Germany have a handful of teams that are quality (and a few of them may even be better than any English side) but the drop-off is drastic in these leagues.

      1. I don’t follow it as much as some. But it was probably the same time you did – the last week of the season in May.

        If you disagree, make an argument or bring up a relevant point. Stop with the silly sarcasm.

  12. First off, if you want to judge the relative strengths of the different leagues by world cup performances (a complicated and potentially misleading methodology), you need to wait until both the world cup is over and the transfer window closes. Finding out which players end up in which league is more indicative of the leagues’ relative strength than which league they started from. My guess is that a lot of that German squad is about to go abroad and that their experiences abroad are going to help them over the next 6 to 8 years. Similarly, Uruguay has about 10 intriguing targets in players like Luis Suarez, Fernando Muslera, Martin Caceres, and Edinson Cavani. The Spanish players will likely stay in Spain but over 60% of the starting lineup is from one club making them a great argument for best club (not that one was needed) but an outlier in any discussion of best league. And despite the fact that you are unlikely to see much movement from Spain to England, 25% of the Spanish national team have played in the Premiership.

  13. very interesting piece.

    personally i think unless there was a competition like the CL for mid table – lower league clubs i dont think it would be possible to tell which league is the best.

    what we can say definetly is that barca, inter, Man U, and Chelsea are currently the leading clubs in europe. two of which compete in the epl and show equal technical standards (if perhaps lower technical standards compared to barca)

    the likes of real, bayern and arsenal while possesing technically very competent teams dont yet have the tactical flexibility that the leading clubs have.
    and i really think those are the only conclusions that can be drawn.

  14. Jesse- Nice post!!!

    Defining Best is key and like many have said, I’m not sold on WC performance as the barometer. I thinks it’s certain that the Prem, La Liga, and the Bundesliga are at the top right now. Each has strengths and weaknesses. La Liga is probably the best in terms of technical skill, England has the largedt number of really good teams though I’m not sure it’s 8. The Bundesliga is simply the best run league with the most compelling competition. On the downside l
    La Liga is too top heavy, England is probably too physical at the expense of quality, and the Bundesliga really doesn’t have much “top talent”.

    What’s may be more interesting is what league is your favorite and why. I like the prem and I think the reason why comes down to language. I only speak english and that makes the prem the most accesible. I can’t read nearly as much about the Bundesliga because the local press is in German.

  15. Deep runs into history aside, all three leagues lack true parity at the top. Since the inception of the EPL only four teams have won the league and it’s really only three that are relevant at any given time. In that same time period in Spain only five teams have won it but the same two stand out. In Germany six teams have won since 93 and more teams challenge for the title each year.

    You’re going to like whichever league you’re going to like, but if you’re looking for excitement from top to bottom the Bundesliga really is the best. The best players are in Spain and then England, but the best “league” is Germany. England do a great job at making it more sexy and appealing, but watch the Bundesliga and you’ll see good football week in and week out and it wont be as predictable, though just about any league always has two favorites each and every year.

  16. “Immortal bench-warmer Pepe Reina”…I think you mean “Perennial bench-warmer Pepe Reina”. i.e. He’s always on the bench, not that he is going to live forever.

    1. No, immortal, meaning he’ll spend eternity on the bench. Just a little joke. Obviously not gotten.

  17. give yanks a platform and this is the kind of bullshit we have to be subjected to,no wonder ppl dismiss you lot as fans,the world can do without ur stupid input,ironic u say all this jesse on an premier league forum,go run along to bundesliga talk,oh wait none of you will

    1. lee,

      thanks for the feedback. I’ll definitely be writing for Bundesliga Talk this year, a league I’ve loved for a few years now that I plan on delving deeper into come August.

      Make sure you stop by and read some of my articles, although it’s unlikely, cause what would a “yank” know about anything?

  18. I think the most competitve League is the Bundesliga. But that is also its problem. Except for Bayern no team plays in the Champions League every year. That in turn reduces revenue and the appeal for international star players.
    The lack of star players and regularly deep CL runs for those Teams (Schalke, Bremen, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Hamburg all played in the CL in the 3 or 4 years) make the Bundesliga not as appealing to foreign fans as La Liga and the EPL.
    That is also the reason the German National Team was way underrated (especially regarding their individual talent) coming into the Tournament.

    1. Having said that. for me the most enjoyable league to watch is the Premiership. Particularly when top 8 teams go head to head because the pace of play is usually frantic from the kickoff. In other Leagues and with less talented EPL Teams the matches start off more reserved.

  19. The best league is the EPL no doubt about it, there is no debate about it, this article is a waste of time. the EPL is by far the best, even the Coca Cola championship is better than any other league in Europe except maybe the Awesome Russian Premier League available on Setanta sports!

  20. Oh, and besides Cesc and Torres(which both might turn to Barcelona) and Drogba, there really isnt anyone else in the league that is really a star. Im not counting British players, as they SHOULD be playing in their league.

    1. why should they be playing in their league? why is it worth championing (I think you’re championing…maybe you aren’t?) that 27 of the finalists’ squads have 27 active or former La Liga players if players are supposed to play in their own league? Maybe are you complaining that the Dutch are infiltrating everybody’s leagues (by my count, 8 have played in the Premier league, 8 have played Bundesliga, 6 have played in La Liga, 2 have played Serie A)

      (incidentally isn’t it 28? I was thinking that Fabregas was the only Spanish player never to play La Liga? maybe I’m wrong?)

      Essien. Mascherano. Cech. Evra. etc

  21. What a clown you are mate! This site must be exceedingly desperate if they allowa no-talent wad of shit like you post here

  22. So Spain has a great league because they have one great team and another that spends a lot of money to get bounced in the round of 16 year after year in the Champions League?

  23. Just a couple of thoughts.

    Using the World Cup as a measure of the level of professional soccer is at best a dodgy proposition. The World Cup is essentially an All Star Tournament where only the best players (ideally) from a given country compete. It says nothing about how deep the talent might be through out the league. Its one thing to be able to find 11 really talented players and enough talented players for subs to make up a single side. Its another thing entirely to have enough talent to keep an 16-20 team top level league going strong.

    Now, I think it is a concern that many star players are snubbing EPL teams for other clubs… but as others have pointed out having one or two stacked teams in a league does not in and of itself make the League stronger.

    Ultimately, I think the finances of many of the over spending teams (including several EPL teams) will come back to haunt them. German teams are generally pretty good, but Italy and Spain? As I pointed out, EPL has a few teams at its top that might run into financial difficulties… but on the flip side, it has a fairly strong middle that can step up and take over.

  24. There have been some interesting perspectives from this article that I hope was written to spark passionate debate from football fans–so i share my thoughts and offer some questions and apologize in advance if they appear random.

    Given the joke that is the global economy right now (spain especially), its no surprise that football in general is hurting. However saying that La liga’s top 2 have huge fiscal issues one in the ludicrous large amounts paid for players and 2 the wages they pay, Barcalona La liga winners can’t afford to pay their players? If there is no revenue sharing and they keep all their revenue,where did all the money go? Suspicious i think, they can’t all be on $300,000 a week, Real madrid paying all that money for Ronaldo (made his name at Man Utd) and Kaka (made his name at AC) to loose la liga was hilarious, Now with all these stars they need “the chosen one” who because of his apparent tactical superiority and leadership skills, could sell those players and still win every year he is there.

    Unfortunately, for la liga there is a clear gap in quality, the fact that fulham an average team at best in the EPL marched all the way to the europa league final and were unlucky to not beat Athletico Madrid says alot about that gap.

    Then there is the Bundesliga, In the world cup Germany’s boast “we are a team” is evident in their play but no suprise, most of them already play on a team together Bayern Munich.

    The same with the spanish from Barca and Real who provide 90% of the starting 11, the dutch most of their great players come from Ajax or from their great youth system, i believe that even the players at other clubs like Inter and Barca still come from the Ajax youth system. Can you honestly be surprised at what countries are always at the top? Look at Brazil even?

    The English “starting 11” have at most 3 from 1 club.

    Has anyone looked at stats on where the starting 11 for all 32 countries at the world cup play club football?

    Also what is the most plural league in the world?

    Lets not forget in this lively debate that the world cup is the result of a 2 year knock out process of over 120 countries, some amazing football is played by these countries and were very unlucky to not make it (Croatia, Egypt) and some that were (Argentina, France).

    Clearly watch what you want, and enjoy the game IMO the premiership offers the greatest overall experience. There are countries that perform well and are always in the mix, if you look closely at what those factors are you may find some interesting commonalities. I don’t think that the WC illustrates what the best league is but does raise a great debate and bring out the passion of many

  25. Don’t watch it then. Sometimes I think the writers on this site fail to grasp that people aren’t watching a league depending on which one is scientifically better. They follow a team, not the entire league in comparison to another. Do these stats convey how exciting the Premier League is? Nope

    1. Good point. Most people are fans of a particular club, not of a particular league. I don’t care whether the Premier League is the best league in the world or the twentieth. I will watch it to see if my team wins. And now they’ve been relegated, I’ll watch the Championship.

  26. I think there is no doubt epl is the best in the world. Only spanish la liga can match the epl. but still the quality of epl is the highest. Only two clubs in spain is at very best. madrid and barca. Compare to epl the competition much more open, team likes spurs,city and villa still can create trouble to much bigger teams like man utd and chelsea. So can u see that in la liga? Very rare it likely to happening right?!

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