It’s the beginning of the new football season. This time of the year, one usually encounters a lot of talk about one league being better. Like all others I have my own criteria of choosing one league to be better than another. Sometimes these criteria are not deemed as important to others and obviously theirs to me. That's when I decided to put down a post taking into account a multitude of factors and statistics before reaching a conclusion, if possible. I will safely assume that the only two leagues in competition are La Liga and the English Premier League.
I’ve broken down the comparison into different points. Of course, I could have skipped some, but I’ve put down whatever came to my mind.
• Top of the league
EPL 10 Che 86 Man 85 Ars 75 Tot 70
EPL 09 Man 90 Liv 86 Che 83 Ars 72
EPL 08 Man 87 Che 85 Ars 83 Liv 76
EPL 07 Man 89 Che 83 Liv 68 Ars 68
EPL 06 Che 91 Man 83 Liv 82 Ars 67
Liga 10 FCB 99 RMA 96 Val 71 Sev 63
Liga 09 FCB 87 RMA 78 Sev 70 Atm 67
Liga 08 RMA 85 Vil 77 FCB 67 Atm 64
Liga 07 RMA 76 FCB 76 Sev 71 Val 66
Liga 06 FCB 82 RMA 70 Val 69 Sev 68
o Chelsea and Manchester have dominated, similar to Barcelona and Real
o Similarly if one of the above teams win, most often the other finish 2nd
o Teams in 3 and 4 positions are usually off the winners by a fair bit
As we can see, both leagues are ultimately 2 horse races, which can put to rest the theory of one league being more competitive than the other. Point totals are also similar and equally high, which goes on to show the top teams are significantly and equally better than bottom rung teams. Of course statistics don’t always tell the truth, but they point you towards the right directions.
When we look at the overall history of both the leagues, we observe that Real Madrid lead the Liga with 31 titles followed by Barcelona with 20 and Atletico Madrid with 9. In the English league Manchester United and Liverpool are tied at 18, followed by Arsenal at 13, whereas in the era of the Premier League Manchester United are miles ahead of the rest of the pack with 11 titles followed by Chelsea and Arsenal at 3 apiece. This again reiterates that one or two teams always dominate the league.
• Performances in Europe
Both these leagues almost always send 4 teams to the Champions league and 3-4 to the UEFA Cup/Europa League as well. I suppose, for a CL or EL campaign to be called successful, semi-finals can be set as a benchmark. Some more statistics follow about number of semi-finalists from each country and the eventual winners.
CL 10 1 ESP 0 ENG Int
CL 09 1 ESP 3 ENG FCB
CL 08 1 ESP 3 ENG Man
CL 07 0 ESP 3 ENG ACM
CL 06 2 ESP 1 ENG FCB
Cup 10 1 ESP 2 ENG Atm
Cup 09 0 ESP 0 ENG Shak
Cup 08 0 ESP 0 ENG Zen
Cup 07 3 ESP 0 ENG Sev
Cup 06 1 ESP 1 ENG Sev
While it is evident that in the Champions league, England sends more team regularly to semifinals, Spain has a better track record in the ultimate prize. When it comes to the second rung, clearly, Spain has the advantage with more victories, and semi-finalists. A conclusion is hard to reach because one cannot say one league is better with just these statistics
• Players and Awards
Another central point of argument is the quality of players in each league which statistically can be measured in Golden Boots, FIFA Player of the year, and the Ballon d’or. As for Golden Boot, La Liga has produced 5 and the Premier League 4 in the new format of the award. When it comes to the FIFA award, Real Madrid and Barcelona dominate with 4 and 7 respectively where as the only English entry is to Manchester United. Stats are similar in the Ballon d’or where Barcelona have 6, Real 5 and Manchester 4. This is the first time we can see one league that has a clear advantage over another. It is safe to assume the better players are from the Liga.
• Money Matters
Strength of any league financially is a good measure of how much a better a league is compared to another. This one clearly is in the favour of the EPL because of a much more stable structure where TV money is distributed in accordance to a predefined ratio, which ensures parity being ensured between top and bottom teams. La Liga allows teams to negotiate their own TV deals which creates imbalance at the top, which works against its favour with the view of maintaining equality and competition.
Again, I think the EPL is the clear winner here. Football is the religion in both countries where newspaper headlines are dominated by footballing matters, but where the EPL has scored points is in marketing the league as a brand to the rest of the world. Shifting the time of the matches in view of getting into the Asian primetime slot because of the potential financial benefits trumps the Liga in terms of popularity where most of the games are scheduled in EU night time which is the wee hours of the morning in Asia. I guess statistics are not necessary here.
There are certain aspects of football you cannot measure. Bill Shankly famously said that football is much more than life and death. This is reiterated in La Liga. There is a certain romance to games which are not so in England. Football is a culture, more than just a sport. The connection between sporting history and political history is enough to say that it is more than life in that country. I somehow see this aspect lacking with England. Fans are equally passionate no doubt, but it is just not the same. Beauty is a subjective term, but it has been said time and time again that La Liga offers some of the most beautiful football in the world over the years. With a league full of talented Spaniards, Brazilians, and Argentines, this comes as no surprise. England on the other hand seems to have a much more tactical game, which has merits of its own, but surely can appear dull to the eye. In this regard, Liga has the upperhand in my opinion.
• The Verdict
I cannot think of more points to compare, so I guess I will leave it at that. It is clear that while each of the leagues have their own charms and advantages, it is difficult to come to a conclusion as to one being better than another. Liga is proclaimed to have the better history, EPL is said to be the hands down number one in the recent future, but with all said above, I will conclude by saying no one league is better than the other and all we can do is to enjoy the beautiful game and wait for this season to unfold.
Edit : A friend provided me with http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/jonathan_wilson/08/24/epl.observations/index.html?xid=twitter_share another article on similar lines, do take a look.