La Liga and the Premier League are, in most quarters, rightly recognised as the two strongest leagues in the world. Perhaps this is tough on Serie A; but it is no secret that most of the world stars occupy the two leagues in question.
It would be fair to say that, at this moment, the two best players in the world are Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Lionel Messi of Barcelona. The former sitting at the top of the goal scoring charts in La Liga with 14 goals in 12 games, the latter with 13. Spain may have the best national squad in the world and the best players but that does not make the best league.
It is no secret that coveted World Cup sensation Mesut Özil had a long list of admirers this summer before he eventually chose to sign for Real Madrid; whether this was due to the pull of the climate, or the money, or whether rising stars believe La Liga is stronger than the Premier League is debatable.
David Beckham once famously said, when you leave Manchester United, the only way is down, the only team who are on par are Real Madrid. That said, this is very much a British opinion; perhaps the pinnacle is to play for Manchester United. It is the same reason Cristiano Ronaldo left for Madrid, for any young Brazilian, Spanish, Portuguese player, the pinnacle is to play for Real.
Following Barcelona’s 8-0 drubbing of Almeria and Madrid’s 5-1 thrashing of Athletic Bilbao, it has been questioned whether the top two, who already lead the chasing pack by 7 Points, are ‘that good’ or whether the teams below are not up to much. Almeria do sit second bottom, that said, Chelsea or Manchester United would not go to Wolves and win 8-0, I would put my house on it.
Valencia are somewhat the third ‘power’ of La Liga, yet they finished last season 25 points adrift of second place; to add to their woes they lost their two best players in the summer, ironically one to the Premier League. They have made a decent start domestically this year but that does not hide the fact they have failed to make any real impact in the Champions League, either this season or previously. Although they have qualified for the latter stages after a thumping win on matchday 5, they will not be vastly feared and were defeated by a depleted and off colour Manchester United on their own patch earlier this season.
The strength of each league is perhaps best tested by the Champions League. In the campaign of 2008-2009, four of the eight quarter finalists and three out of the four semi-finalists were English. This season, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United have all qualified for the latter stages with Arsenal likely to follow suit. Aside from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia, there is no other Spanish representative.
Below that are a crop of teams such as Villarreal, Athletico Madrid and Sevilla, who have failed to make any impact in the Europa League (where Villarreal, along with Getafe, are struggling in very mediocre groups this season), let alone the Champions League. The English equivalent of perhaps Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool; I will let you make your own conclusion on which crop is stronger. Tottenham and Manchester City both genuinely believe they have a chance of winning the title this term and don’t forget it wasn’t long ago that Liverpool won the Champions League and narrowly missed out on the Premier League title, that is a tribute to the strength of the league itself. The truth is, beyond the top five or six teams, the standard in La Liga is not and never will be up to the standard of the Premier League. Sevilla President Jose Maria del Nido admitted:
“Sevilla are championing the fight for a better deal. Look at the Premier League results. Manchester United win 2-0, Chelsea lose 1-0 and Tottenham beat Arsenal at home. That is a league! Not Almeria losing 8-0 or Athletic Bilbao losing 5-1 at the Bernabeu. That is not a real competition”.
The inability of English Clubs to spend their way out of sight, bar of course Manchester City, has kept the league interesting. If a player coveted by the Premier League wished to move, he could realistically compete for trophies at Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool. The same cannot be said of La Liga.
Despite his heroics against Liverpool for Manchester United, Diego Forlan had a nightmare in England. Whether he wasn’t ready or whether the fact he scores goals for fun in Spain may speak volumes and remember Frédéric Kanouté, average at Tottenham, great at Sevilla. Giuseppe Rossi, unspectacular in England, quite the opposite in Spain. The fact I haven’t needed to mention the stars that occupy the Premier League is an important point in itself. Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, and Carlos Tevez would all feature in most people’s list of the world’s top 10 strikers.
This season and certainly next, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City will all contest the Premier League trophy. In La Liga, it will be one from two; outside Barcelona and Real Madrid, La Liga does not provide a platform to win trophies or create excitement amongst the public. Nearly two-thirds of all football fans in Spain support one of the big two and the rest distantly follow one of them, it reminds me of a league closer to home, dare I say Scotland.