Football, or Soccer for some, has been the most popular sport on the planet for a long time. While many other sports are massively popular in certain geographies, no game enjoys the pan-planet appeal as football does. According to FIFA’s estimate, this game is played by 265 million people and a staggering 3.5 billion consider themselves ‘football fans’. Sadly, we are nearing that time of the year when football fans across the world start feeling miserable. The football season is heading towards its end for this year. Within the next week, most top football leagues will come to their conclusions and on the 28th of this month, two top teams will contest for the most coveted title, the UEFA Champions League. That will officially bring an end to the 2021-22 football season for most of the world.
Before the football world and its 3.5 billion fans go into despair and hibernation for 3 months, I wish to address a question that is often hotly debated and keenly contested.
“Which is the best Football League in the world?”
For most, this is a simple question to answer, and experts, journalists, footballers, and coaches have mostly agreed on their answers. However, being a fan is neither easy nor the most logical of outcomes and thus, fans of different football leagues remain somewhat divided on this particular topic. It is understandable that as a fan, we often follow our favorite players, clubs, or domestic leagues of our countries, and there is a strong emotional attachment that makes us stick to our loyalties and that is what makes sports so amazing. But putting those emotions aside, there is no harm in understanding where the sport stands, in the world, and where we as fans fall under that umbrella. Since all of us agree that the European leagues are the best in the world of football, I’ll restrict this article to the top European leagues.
To address the question of the ‘best Football league’ in the world, I’ll first touch upon the obvious stats related to ‘viewership’, and that should set the overall direction without much controversy.
According to totalsportal.com the below chart shows the world’s top leagues in terms of viewership and average match attendance. All the top five leagues have a strong TV viewership of above 120 million (French Ligue 1), bettered by 298 million for the Bundesliga (German), 380 million for Serie-A (Italian), and 903 million for the La Liga (Spanish). And then there is the Premier League (England) with a whopping viewership of 1.7 billion. It has been reported that 643 million households in 212 countries tuned into the 2018-19 season of the English Premier League.
That comprises the top five leagues with the highest viewership in the world. I would assume the question of popularity is well answered by these figures.
However, as many would argue, ‘most popular’ doesn’t always make something the ‘best’ and I would like to agree with that argument. So, what determines something as the best? In football, I believe a league should be evaluated on the two most important aspects of Quality and Competitiveness. Let’s delve into these two individually.
What makes a league higher in quality than another? I believe this should be a combination of these three factors:
A. Quality of Clubs
B. Quality of Players
C. Quality of Coaches
A. Quality of Clubs:
There are so many massive clubs in Europe, with decades and some even with over a century of proud heritage. Many of them have a fan following across the globe and while the fans are only a part of it, the attractiveness of football has a lot to do with these fans.
Today social media has taken fan engagement to a very different level and here are the top clubs with their followers across major social media channels, namely Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok.
Real Madrid – 307.4 mn
Barcelona – 306.5 mn
Manchester United – 181.3 mn
Paris Saint-German – 151.1 mn
Juventus – 120.8 mn
Chelsea – 113.3 mn
Liverpool – 107.7 mn
Bayern Munich – 103.4 mn
Manchester City – 104.2 mn
Arsenal – 81.5 mn
While clearly Real Madrid and Barcelona are the world’s two most followed clubs, it might be worthwhile to note that there are five English clubs in the top ten, along with two from Spain and one each from Germany, Italy, and France.
Fan following aside, let us also look at the enterprise value (in million €) of the world’s biggest football clubs and the data from Statista is shown in the table below:
Once again, Real Madrid and Barcelona top the list and yet again, there are five clubs from England in the top ten, with one each from Italy, Germany, and France.
Also, let’s look at the latest official UEFA Club coefficients below:
While the points are awarded every year, the total points are a summation based on a 5-year performance in European competitions. It follows a pretty similar pattern of four English clubs, three Spanish clubs, and one each from Italy, Germany, and France, while Bayern has the highest cumulative points tally.
World Football Rankings has created this list of top leagues based on SPI (Soccer Power Index) and the Standard Deviation.
Based on their parameters, the top ten clubs are as follows:
This time, there are four from the English league, two from Spain, and one each from Netherlands, Austria, France, and Germany. No Italian club makes it into this list.
B. Quality of Players
Now let’s investigate the most important factor in football, the quality of players. After all, the stardom of players is what attracts the fans and keeps this entire football business running.
And this one is a tough one for sure, with thousands of top professional footballers playing across numerous leagues in the world. I have considered two key things here, the first being a list of the players with the highest value in today’s market. And there is none better than transfermarkt.com for this information. Here is their list of top ten most valued footballers today:
To summarize, there are five players from the Premier League, two from France, one each from Spain, Italy, and Germany. And the German league player (Erling Haaland) is now confirmed to be plying his trade in England next season.
But of course, for footballers, top ten is probably not a sufficient list, so I decided to look a little more and picked the list of the next ten in terms of value.
Now, from the most valuable twenty players in the world today, twelve play in England, three* play in Germany, two each in France and Spain, and one plays in Italy.
But a valuation of a football player has a lot to do with the phase of his career and potential and therefore it is always skewed towards younger players, who have a longer career ahead of them. So I wanted to balance it by looking into the players who are at their prime now, using the Ballon D’or Power Rankings for this season. (Source: Goal.com)
The list is as follows:
- Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
- Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
- Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
- Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
- Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
- Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)
- Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
- Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
- Phil Foden (Manchester City)
- Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
This list, obviously very different from the one with market values, still has some names common. And this time there are again five players from England, three from Spain, and one each from Germany and France. I am hoping that the point of Quality of Players has been duly addressed now.
C. Quality of Coaches
Apart from the players, coaches or managers play a massive role in taking a club forward, and the best managers are often the pillars behind a successful club and many times, even a successful player.
I have checked several rankings for the world’s top managers and have arrived at this list of the top ten, not in any particular order, since there can be significant variances in the rankings.
Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
Carlo Ancelotti (Real Madrid)
Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea)
Hansi Flick (Germany)
Julian Nagelsmann (Bayern Munich)
Mauricio Pochettino (PSG)
Zinedine Zidane (no club)
Massimiliano Allegri (Juventus)
Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid)
Among them, Hansi Flick is the coach of the German National team while Zinedine Zidane presently is not coaching any club. From the remaining eight, three are coaching in England, two in Spain, one each in France, Germany, and Italy.
Now that we have discussed the issue of Quality, in terms of the clubs, players and managers, let’s into the final aspect of competitiveness of the leagues.
To evaluate football leagues on their competitiveness, I would like to look at the quality of opponents in each league and their ability to compete with the so called ‘giants’ in each league. It is understood that some clubs are bigger than some others for numerous reasons, some historical, some contemporary. And then, there is money!
A club with solid financials attracts top players, who have a higher chance of delivering top performances, which often leads to higher success, generating even more money and larger fan following. The reverse is equally true, and several big clubs that dominated in the past, went down the downward spiral into mediocrity.
We’ll focus on two aspects of competitiveness. A last 10-year look into the leagues’ winners, as well as a deeper look into the latest season, that is just about to end.
Bundesliga – German League
Among the top five European leagues, the Bundesliga is the only one where there are 18 teams competing (all others have 20 teams), and one that has already ended due to fewer fixtures. Bayern Munich has won the title this season, and they are the team that has won the league title for the last 10 years. The last time another club won the German domestic title, was Borussia Dortmund, eleven years back, under Jurgen Klopp who now manages the English club Liverpool.
Looking at this year’s league, Bayern won the title with an 8-point lead over second-placed Dortmund, which effectively means the title was decided with 3 games to go, or 9% of the calendar remaining.
There is absolutely no doubt that Bayern Munich is one of the greatest clubs in the history of football, with one of the best stadiums in the world, rich history of success, a plethora of top players in their squad, and a massive fan following across the planet. But winning the title for 10 consecutive years does raise legitimate questions on the competitiveness of the Bundesliga.
Ligue 1 – French League
The French league has traditionally been more competitive, with clubs like Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseilles and PSG competing hard for the title. But since the takeover of PSG by the Qatar Sports Investments, it became one of the richest clubs in Europe and that tilted the domestic scale. Since 2011, PSG has won the Ligue 1 title 8 times out of 10, with Monaco and Lille the only two other clubs to win it once each. Despite this one-sided domestic dominance of PSG, the club has struggled to stamp its superiority in the continental scene and are yet to win the Champions League title.
PSG, as expected, have also won the title this season, even though the season is yet to be over. They have a 15 point lead over Monaco in second place, with one more game to play, that effectively means the title has been decided at least 6 games prior to the end of the calendar (with 16% matches left).
Serie-A: Italian League
There was a time when the Italian league dominated the world, and every top player wanted to compete in the Serie-A. Things have changed since, and the last time an Italian club won the Champions League title was twelve years back. Juventus, or The Old Lady, as they are called, have been the dominating force in Italian football for the last decade or so, winning 8 of the last 9 domestic titles or Scudettos. Inter Milan being the only other club who managed to win it in the last decade, a surprise that came in the last season.
However, this season is not over yet in Italy, and the title will be decided in the final game of the season. AC Milan, the giants of the 90s and early 2000s, is presently leading the table with a 2-point margin over their bitter rivals Internazionale and it might well be AC Milan’s first title since 2011. Juventus sits fourth on the table, securing a Champions League spot for next season.
La Liga – Spanish League
The Spanish clubs, particularly two of them, absolutely dominated the world of football till only a decade back. The world’s two greatest players of that generation, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, competed for personal and team awards for year after year, thereby lifting their own levels and improving their clubs, and their leagues as well.
It is still keenly contested between these two clubs with Barcelona having won five titles in the last 10 years, Real Madrid having won three and Athletico Madrid winning the other two.
Real Madrid has also been a powerhouse in Europe, winning the Champions League an unbelievable four times in the last ten years. However, Barcelona FC has managed to win it only once during these ten years.
This season, Real Madrid has already won the La Liga title, with a 10-point lead over second placed Barca, with a game still left to play (now completed), essentially closing the title contest four weeks before the end of the season (with 10% of the season remaining).
Premier League – English League
Finally, let’s look into the English Premier League on the aspect of competitiveness. Manchester City have been the dominant force over the last few years in the Premier League and are headed towards their fourth title in five years. That said, the English league has seen five different clubs winning the title in the last ten years, including the likes of former giants like Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, to the lesser expected Leicester City. Their performance in the Champions League has also been encouraging with two clubs winning the title and four playing the finals, over the last ten years. However, like PSG, Manchester City, despite their domestic dominance, has failed to lift the Champions League trophy so far.
As for the current season, which has one game left, there is almost everything to play for. Twenty clubs play every year at this highest level of English football with different goals in mind. Some fight to stay in the league and avoid relegation to the lower division, while some fight to clinch a place in the top four to secure a spot in the Champions League next season. And then of course, there is the fight for the title.
This season, with one game to go, there are still teams fighting to avoid relegation, although Everton has just got themselves out of this embarrassing race a couple of days back. There are also two bitter rivals (Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspurs) going neck and neck in their battle for that last Champions League spot. And at the top two spectacular teams, Manchester City and Liverpool FC are separated by one point, going into the last game. Even the spots for Europa League are far from decided, with Manchester United determined to keep their 2-point lead over West Ham United.
Literally, everything in the Premier League is going to be decided by the final game of the season. Call that some competition!
While there is some obvious subjectivity in this exercise, I have tried to explain the logic and reasons through this article. Please, come and take a look:
It is pretty clear that the English Premier League is indeed the ‘best football league’ in the world in the present day. It outshines the next, La Liga, by some margin and both these leagues are ahead of the other three leagues by some distance.
But in life, nothing is eternal, and football follows the cycles of life, just as everything else. What is at the top today will not be at the top forever, and everyone’s place will be taken by someone else at some point. We have seen the Italian League dominate for decades, followed by the Spanish league, and now it is the time of dominance for the English league.
How it will change in a few years, and it surely will, no one can predict today.
On that note, enjoy the end of the football season, and keep loving this amazing game!
Well researched and documented blog Amitava. Couldn’t agree more.
Dear Friend, What an article 👌👍Informative and well Written.Great Reading …Keep writting