It’s an international break! League One and League Two are still scheduled this week, but England’s second tier has the weekend off and we have to wait for the debut of Sven (*sigh*) Goran-Eriksson, who on the plus side will probably provide me with plenty material to write about as the season goes on. So another football debate and this is quite a big one. I’m not quite sure when this all started, but I remember when I was growing up it was universally accepted almost that Italy’s Serie A was the ‘best league in the world’ and then all of a sudden at the turn of the millennium, this feeling shifted towards the Premier League. The whole notion of the ‘best league in the world’ has always played on me and I decided I would go full swing with my thoughts after reading a great piece on sister (brother? affiliate?) site Serie A talk, which covers why they think Serie A is better than the Premier League this season. Don’t worry La Liga and Bundesliga, I haven’t forgot about you…you just seem to be on the cusp of this argument most the time.
If you have no idea about this argument, for some reason it usually involves the Italian and English leagues in some sort of battle for supremacy, but in truth, England’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga are probably the top leagues in the world at the moment. But how do we rank all these? Do we need to? I remember in Sky Sport’s coverage of last season’s Champion’s League final between Inter Milan V Bayern Munich, Graeme Souness commented that he “didn’t think the top two teams in Europe were in the final” that year. Which I found a quite hilarious comment considering that is the idea of the tournament. But even then, just because Inter won the Champions League, that doesn’t mean all of a sudden that Serie A is back in full force and back to the top of the pile.
I am from England but I am a bit of a sucker for Serie A; I love it. I grew up watching players like Del Piero, Crespo, Vieri, Ronaldo and Zanetti – Italy had a lot of players I have affection for and I know many football purists have fond memories of those Serie A years. The attitude from the majority of people in England is different from mine though. You’ll often hear people label Italian football as “slow and defensive”, which is a norm that seems to have been passed around in England and is now bellowed by people who have never even sat through a Serie A game in their life. Of course Serie A has it’s boring games, but so does every league. I actually Consider Man City the most boring team in top flight football at the moment (I realise the irorny that they are managed by an Italian) and when they recently played Juventus in the Europa league, The Old Lady looked to play at a faster pace against them but after a bright start they soon conceeded an excellent goal from Adam Johnson. Man City can be boring to watch, but at times I can respect some of the plays they make and how they pick their moments (and I’m pretty sure their fans won’t care how they play considering the start they have made).
On their way to the Champions League final last season, Inter went to the Camp Nou 3-1 up against a Barcelona side that was widely considered as the most feared team in the world. Thiago Motta cruelly got sent off and it seemed as if Barca would just run riot, but Inter managed to keep them out. Many people labelled this as boring but I saw it quite differently. I was amazed at how well Inter defended and how they shut down Barca time after time, building up their frustration – Mourinho’s decision to play Christian Chivu (a natural left back) on the left wing was a master stroke to shut down the ever advancing Dani Alves. I enjoyed it and it ended with some great drama. But when some people started saying “typical Italian team” it really grinded on me. If you are 3-1 up from the first leg and you are off to play Barcelona at their home ground, who wouldn’t try to defend that?!
Mourinho is a defensive manager. The difference in Chelsea under Ancelotti compared to Mourinho is the style of play and how they play – yet they still get the same success. Mourinho instils discipline in his players and knows how to defend a lead, yet when he was Chelsea manager, few were keen to mention that Chelsea played quite a defensive game. Ancelotti on the other hand seems to have a ‘kill! kill! kill!’ attitude which see’s his team constatly looking for goals.
But why is the Premier League known as “the most exciting league in the world”? Well anyone with a little know how is aware that it is because of marketing. The amount of money involved exposing the English Premier League is phenomenal and they got their first into a number of markets with their product to make it seem superior and it worked pretty well. I remember a few quite dull Man Utd V Arsenal ties back when both clubs were on top which were not reviewed as dull ties but more as a “battle”. They would show some of the tackles and physical play that was going in, which was quite the clever move by them. I am not trying to bash the Premier League, I love it, but if you are going to give allegiance to only one league then you are missing the bigger picture in being a football fan. In the 00′s, the Premier League was very exciting and we saw a lot of great players going there, but they spent big much like Serie A did in 90′s and it is only since the recission that clubs are starting to realise that those days are gone which will hopefully create more balance.
And then there are Real Madrid and Barcelona! Marooned out there in a now top heavy La Liga, yet these are arguably the two biggest clubs in the world. There is some good teams in Spain, like Valencia, Sevilla and Ateltico Madrid, but they league doesn’t feel as balanced as the others. Albeit, Chelsea appear to have stomped their foot down on the Premier League with Man City lurking behind them, but there isn’t the same feeling in the English league that it will always be a two club race as for years we had the “big four” which has thankfully disbanded to some degree. La Liga is a great league, but what I want from any league is balance and a chance that there will be a challenge for the honours and I don’t get that feeling with La Liga.
But where is the balance this season then? Well I look at Serie A which has been very exciting this season (particularly Juventus who appear to be goal crazy) and that quiet one in the corner…Die Bundesliga. Germany’s top league has often been a bit of an odd entity and it doesn’t usually get involved in the whole arguement of “the best league in the world”, but I always feel that the Bundesliga deserves to be bigger than it is, purely for the fact that the league has been designed for the fans with fair pricing and great atmospheres. The league is still in growth and with Bayern Munich making it to the Champion’s League final last season, the future looks bright for German club football. Hey, it’s the German’s – they just know what they’re doing!
The fact is I never like to focus on one league. As a fan of football, I just want to watch good football, I don’t care what country it is from. There isn’t a “most exciting league in the world” as some would claim and lists that rank the top four leagues are a waste of time – they are all special in their own way for different reasons each season. It ebbs and flows – I remember about two seasons ago where the final day of La Liga had a crazy relegation battle where about six teams were fighting for their lives. I also think that was the season every time i turned on La Liga there was some crazy score line like 6-2 or 5-3 every week – it was great to watch. I remember last season and Roma’s great unbeaten streak which ended at Sampdoria and they fell short to an Inter side they ended up bitterly hating, as shown when Francesco Totti kicked out at an Inter player in the Coppa Italia and got sent off. Remember when Fulham were relegated at half time and came back against Man City and ended up avoiding the drop (kudos to Sven for that), that was amazing!
Thou shalt not put the whole leagues into direct competition against each other on a general basis. Each team is different and they are all exciting in their own way, if you are a true fan of football you should just be looking to watch a great game of football. I love the fact that one season Man Utd can win the Champions League, then Barcelona and Inter after them – it’s exciting to see competition.Who cares about these petty rivalries and who wants to buy into the notion that one league is above all the rest? Don’t support the league – support football.