The Fallacy of the Best League in the World

Manchester City does not have any fans, but who does not want to be associated with winners? Especially when the winner is one of the latest rich kids in “the best league in the world”?

A regular conversation this “best league in the world” debate and what stifles it usually is the fact that people have taken positions they are not willing to get out of.

In compact eyes, the Barclays Premier League is “the best league in the world”. Football fans do not know enough about other leagues to ever arrive at an objective conclusion; a direct, yet unfortunate, consequence of the fact that the most accessible satellite television package bombards football fans with fixtures from only one league. As a result, the only entity fans know then becomes, to them, the best object that exists. This is what gave birth to “the BPL is the best league in the world” narrative. However, individual accolades, continental glory and global successes prove otherwise.

In the past twenty years, the Ballon D’Or has been won only on two occasions by a player plying his trade in “the best league in the world”; Michael Owen for Liverpool in 2001 and Cristiano Ronaldo for Manchester United in 2008.You’d think the odds would improve if we went all the way back to 1956 when the award was inaugurated, but there are only six Ballon D’Or winners that won it playing in “the best league in the world”: Stan Matthews, Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law, George Best, Michael Owen and Cristiano Ronaldo. Although England-born Kevin Keegan is a two-time winner, he won it playing for Hamburg in Germany. The Ballon D’Or has been won the most times, 18, by a player playing in the Italian Serie A, secondly 17 times by a player in the Spanish La Liga and nine times by a player in Germany’s Bundesliga; overwhelming evidence that “the best league in the world” has never been the league of choice for the best players in the world.

The Netherlands and Germany have the most number of Ballon D’Or winners by country with each country having seven players born in it that went on to become Europe best football player of the year. These 14 players won the Ballon D’Or playing for Milan, Barcelona, Ajax, Bayern, Dortmund and Inter. The country that hosts “the best league in the world” has had only four England-born Ballon D’Or winners, but one did not win while playing in “the best league in the world”.

Clubs from “the best league in the world” trail Spain’s 15 combined victories in terms of the most number of UEFA Champions League titles won by a league and is tied for second with teams from Italy’s Serie A on 12 titles per league. La Liga’s Real Madrid holds the record of most Champions League victories by a club with ten wins, followed by Serie A’s AC Milan with seven, only in third place do we find a team from “the best league in the world”, Liverpool,  tied with Bundesliga’s Bayern Munich and La Liga’s Barcelona with five titles per club.

You might not remember who won the FIFA World Cup in 1960 and 1972, but the 1966 winners will never let you forget who won it that year. Notwithstanding the fact that Brazil won it a record five times, Italy and Germany four times each, Argentina and Uruguay twice per country and Spain France and the country that hosts “the best league in the world” only once.

No country has won the EURO Championships at senior level more times than Germany and Spain, with three titles each, France has won the continental showpiece twice, while Yugoslavia, Greece The Netherlands and Denmark are the only other winners with one victory per nation. Sadly, the country that hosts “the best league in the world” is yet to grace the winners circle at the tournament.

The most commonly used criterion in declaring the Barclays Premier League “the best league in the world” is competitiveness; defined as a combination of a high number of potential realistic title winners and the relatively low score margins. Well, Spain’s La Liga has been won by nine different clubs, German Bundesliga by 29 different clubs, there have been 16 different league champions in the Italian Serie A and only five different title holders in “ the best league in the world”.

We’d have a much better conversation if we placed more emphasis on the obviously superior attacking prowess in the other leagues as opposed to assuming the defences ought to be weak for so many goals to be scored. If it were Manchester United scoring eight goals against Aston Villa, as it should, we’d be told “football is a game of goals and that is what spectators pay to see”. But, in truth, the only reason, the most successful team in “the best league in the world” fails to put eight past Aston Villa is because they could neither  hold on to Cristiano Ronaldo nor attract Thomas Muller… nor Paulo Dybala.

It’s a small consolation to miss out on World Cup, Champions League, Ballon D’Or and EURO winner in Zinedine Zidane only to land a terrific yet underperforming Thierry Henry, whose only hope to win the Champions League was to vacate a certain starting position in “the best league in the world” only to settle for a benchwarmer’s role with Spain’s Barcelona. It would be an eye-popping achievement for “the best league in the world” to host a World Cup, Ballon D’Or, Champions League and continental champion, but that is a common feat in the Spanish, German and Italian leagues.

Each time “the best league in the world” misses out on football gods like Rivaldo, Kaka and Ronaldinho they get consolation prizes such as Juninho, Gilberto Silva and Robinho. The loss of an A-grade Marco van Basten is compensated by a not so bad Ruud van Nistelrooy. And a Booby prize for Lothar Matthaus rejecting “the best league in the world”? A World Cup-winning Andre Schuurle.

Does “the best league in the world” deserve the four Champions League spots it currently holds? No!

Is UEFA not aware of the fact that “the best league in the world” is not as strong a league as some that have fewer Champions League spots? No!

Will UEFA act in the best interest of world football and take away at least one of the four Champions League spots “the best league in the world” currently holds? No!

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