Like most soccer fans, I am a soccer league polygamist. Because I live less than 20 minutes from an MLS club, I root for and follow Major League Soccer in the U.S. However, I am also a passionate Arsenal fan who lives and dies in every match they play throughout the year. And of course, I love Serie A best of all and have my favorite club, whose scarf I wore proudly this past Sunday. I dare say almost every soccer fan, because of the diverse leagues around the world, has multiple favorite teams or leagues.
But as I read about Bobby Zamora’s recent leg break and as Arsenal players continue to suffer and recover from rough (or, if you prefer) violent tackles, it made me compare the style and content of play I watch in both the EPL and Serie A every weekend. And upon reflection, I came to a conclusion I probably reached long ago but only now can put into writing:
Serie A soccer is superior to English Premier League soccer
This sentiment goes beyond just who has the best team (although it would be Serie A with reigning Champions League winners Inter). Looking at the two leagues as a whole, Serie A is superior to the EPL in a number of ways both on and off the pitch and, if I were a novice soccer fan researching what league to watch, it should be obvious that I would want to watch Serie A. The following are the reasons for this argument, and I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below and on Twitter @roberthayjr. Thanks also to Niccolo for his contribution to this post:
- The Italian style of play is more fluid and skillful, while the EPL style is one of constant hard fouls – If you are a fan of an EPL club, it is almost inevitable that one of your most important players will miss time with a nasty injury picked up from a violent tackle. Arsenal alone lost Robin Van Persie this year and Aaron Ramsey last year for extended time to hard fouls in league play. It’s not just Arsenal – Tottenham fans will have to enjoy not watching Jermaine DeFoe for seven more weeks, Everton fans Jack Rodwell, Tottenham fans Luka Modric, etc. Why? Because these players are subject to constant fouling and aggressive slide tackling, which is the EPL style of play. On a Serie A pitch, there are fouls and slide tackles, but you are more likely to see fluid passing and individual skill over broken shins.
- English fans whine about their clubs, Italian fans actively seek to undermine their clubs – AC Milan fans made news last year when one of their ilk, protesting club owner Silvio Berlusconi, threw a statue at him and knocked him out. Manchester United fans, conversely, feel wearing old shirts conveys their anger sufficiently. When a club under-performs in Italy, the fans act as though the world is ending and the papers ring endlessly with criticism and advice on just how the manager should have done differently. If it’s truly bad, they simply do not attend and show the management what an empty stadium looks like. English soccer fans and their local press more grumble and fall into a “woe is me” attitude. The Italian style is much more fun.
- Serie A owners are much more interesting than their EPL counterparts – Who would you consider the most interesting and exciting Premier League owner? There are some who are hated, but that is more for their nationality and mismanagement (Glazers, Hicks). Italy has some real characters running their clubs, likely because many of them are family owned and operated within the country. The obvious one is Silvio Berlusconi, who is passionate about AC Milan and tends to make himself the center of most offseason stories; has an English owner ever said publicly the team would have won the Premier League if he had been manager, and was 100% serious? Napoli’s Aurelio De Laurentiis is another colorful personality that loves to spend his family’s wealth on the club, and is not afraid to speak on it.
- Serie A has more parity than the EPL – Right now, the top four clubs in Serie A are Cesena, Inter, Chievo Verona, and Lazio, with Brescia right behind. Granted it is early in the season, but it is much easier for smaller clubs to climb the ladder in Serie A than it is in the EPL. The Premier League is dominated by four clubs every year and the story at the beginning of every season is which club can crack the top 4. While Serie A has its Big Four (Juve, Inter, Milan, and Roma), it is much easier for smaller clubs to compete for European tournament spots. A club with the budget and population of Chievo could never compete for a UEFA tournament in the EPL, but can in Serie A.
- Serie A clubs are more successful in Europe than EPL teams – Many people don’t realize this, but Italian teams have been more successful in European play (especially recently) than Premier League clubs. Overall, Italian clubs have won 12 Champions League trophies versus 11 for England, but since 1992 that number has been 5 for Italy, 3 for England. The same trend has held true for the UEFA Cup/Europa League: an Italian club has won the trophy 9 times (5 since 1992) and an English club has won the trophy 6 times (once since 1992).