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.