Is English Premier League the best league in the world right now?
How do you define the best league in the world? Is it the league which has the best players?The best managers? The best teams? Or is it the league which is the most competitive, the most uncertain, the most 'equal'?
Every time we see a Premier League match on TV, we are routinely reminded by the commentators that the English league is the best in the world. They point out that any team can be defeated by any other, and that England has six potential teams competing for the title, as compared to one in France, two in Italy (I'm counting Napoli here), two in Germany and three in Spain.
They sing of relegation-threatened teams going to the homes of title chasers and pulling off upsets, promoted teams putting the big six to the sword. Late, late goals. Stoppage time winners (and sometimes winners in the stoppage time of stoppage time!). Insane comebacks.
But does all of this make a league better than the others? Or is it that the English league is so competitive because the so-called big six are mediocre teams who cannot defeat a smaller team with a 10th of its wage bill? (Incidentally, all that talk about the PL being the best for its competitiveness has gone down the drain this year. City and Liverpool finished 25 points ahead of third place Chelsea; that difference is more than the difference between 7th placed Wolves and relegation).
The answer, up until last year, was no, the Premier League wasn't the best in the world. Far from it. It was competitive, uncertain and exhilarating, but it didn't have the tactical ingenuity of Serie A or the style and beauty LaLiga.
English teams have always prided themselves on their physically, stamina and fight. It's like watching heavy metal, instead of the opera served up by LaLiga. They were competitive at home, but were out-passed, out-thought and generally outclassed in Europe.
The state of affairs, it seems, has changed now. Football dominance is cyclical, with each country dominating for a period of time until falling away and being replaced by another. The best indication of this comes through the Champions League.
A look at the past winners and runners-up shows that between 2004-05 to 2007-08, England were the major force, with an English team either reaching the final or winning every year Then came Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, who stepped up the game to levels previously unseen (most still swear that the 2008-09 Barcelona side were the best club side in history).
The next three years saw different winners, after which Spain's era began anew. Real Madrid (4) and Barcelona (1) won the Champions League for the next 5 years, with Atletico Madrid finishing runners up twice.
Now, England's time has come. In Manchester City and Liverpool, they have two teams who can legitimately be considered favorites against Europe's heavyweights. Tottenham and Arsenal are no longer pushovers who will progress into the last 16 only to fall to a better side. Chelsea have had a transitional season, but they have still reached the Europa final, and will only become stronger from here on.
Quite simply, the Premier League is now the best in the world - not because it is unpredictable or exciting, but because it now has the best teams. Only time will tell if this season is a one-off, or the start of a new cycle of dominance.