Which is the best league in the world?

Photo by: Will Morley www.flickr.com

Photo by: Will Morley

I raise this question today since David Moyes proclaimed the Spanish La Liga as the best league in the world at his first press conference as manager of Real Sociedad. His reasons were simple: “La Liga has the finest players and great coaches and I want to test myself against the best.” So, is Moyes right? Is the Spanish league the best in the world?

There aren’t actually that many competitors for this title. I don’t think it’s too controversial to restrict this search to Europe. There’s a lot of great football played outside Europe (in terms of current growth and future potential, the MLS in America is hugely exciting) but it remains the case that the best players, the best coaches, and the biggest teams are overwhelmingly concentrated in a select few European leagues.

After careful consideration I took the decision to rule out the Scottish Premiership.

The big four leagues in Europe are the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A, and La Liga in Spain (the French might make a case for being included over the Italians but I think Serie A remains stronger than Ligue 1 overall). As I’ve written before, I love Italian football even with all its present travails but there’s no doubt that the Serie A is not at the level of the other three right now. It could be thought of as the Andy Murray of the big four.

Let’s look at some evidence in order to give the impression of employing a scientific approach to ranking the three remaining contenders before arriving at the necessarily subjective conclusion.

I’ll start with the best players. The long list for FIFA’s Ballon d’Or was announced recently, comprising 23 players: Bale (La Liga), Benzema (La Liga), Costa (Premier League), Courtois (Premier League), Di Maria (Premier League), Goetze (Bundesliga), Hazard (Premier League), Ibrahimovic (Ligue 1), Iniesta (La Liga), Kroos (La Liga), Lahm (Bundesliga), Mascherano (La Liga), Messi (La Liga), Mueller (Bundesliga), Neuer (Bundesliga), Neymar (La Liga), Pogba (Serie A), Ramos (La Liga), Robben (Bundesliga), Rodriguez (La Liga), Ronaldo (La Liga), Schweinsteiger (Bundesliga), and Toure (Premier League).

Moyes would appear to be right about the best players then. 10 players on the list are based in Spain, six in Germany, five in England, and one each in Italy and France. Overall, the Spanish league does have more of the best players in the world and in Messi and Ronaldo it has the top two.

Photo by: Jan Solo www.flickr.com

Photo by: Jan Solo

It also has Suarez who is not included on the Ballon d’Or list. Some people are upset by that but the list is about players who have performed best over the year; Suarez has spent rather a lot of the year not playing at all on account of his disgraceful conduct. I have little sympathy regarding his absence.

How about coaches? There are ten contenders for Fifa’s coach of the year award: Ancelotti (La Liga), Conte (currently coach of the Italian national team), Guardiola (Bundesliga), Klinsmann (coach of the U.S. national team), Loew (coach of the German national team), Mourinho (Premier League), Pellegrini (Premier League), Sabella (coached Argentina at the World Cup), Simeone (La Liga), and Van Gaal (Premier League).

The Premier League comes out on top here with three, La Liga has two, and the Bundesliga one. It probably is true that most of the best coaches want to manage in England. I expect Guardiola to move to an English club at some point in the future.

Finally, let’s consider supporters since they are the lifeblood of the leagues. Earlier this year, the Sporting Intelligence website published average attendance figures for the leagues based on the 2012-2013 season (http://www.sportingintelligence.com/finance-biz/business-intelligence/global-attendances/). The Bundesliga’s average attendance was 41,914 (total attendance for the season was 12,825,684), while the Premier League’s average was 35,931 (but with a higher total attendance of 13,653,780), and La Liga’s average was 29,330 (with a total attendance of 11,145,277).

I’ve been to games in all three leagues and I would award victory to the Bundesliga in the supporters’ category. The combination of low ticket prices, superb atmosphere in the stadiums, and excellent German beer and sausage makes the Bundesliga a clear winner here.

Photo by: lackystrike www.flickr.com

Photo by: lackystrike

So where does that leave us? It seems that Spain is the place to be as a player, its England if you are a coach, and Germany if you are supporter.

The Spanish league is technically and tactically sophisticated, has the best players in the world and the two biggest clubs in Barcelona and Real Madrid (El Classico is the game in world football these days). Last season’s remarkable title triumph by Atletico Madrid aside however, the big two tend to overshadow the rest of the league in a way that’s not altogether healthy.

The Premier League is arguably the most competitive, has many world class players and many of the world’s best coaches. Ticket prices are generally too expensive though and the football can be of rather uneven quality.

The Bundesliga takes care of its supporters and offers an excellent quality of football but the increasing dominance of Bayern Munich is making it a bit less competitive than would be ideal. In the next few years, even Bayern may struggle to prevent more players following Kroos out of the Bundesliga.

Is Moyes right then? Has he just landed in the world’s best league? Has he just left it? Should he have opted for Germany?

It’s a tough call and a close one but for me, right now, I would still award the overall title of best league in the world to the Premier League. It’s the most exciting, the fan experience is not as great as in Germany but the atmosphere is still good, there are more than enough great players (including the likes of Aguero, Fabregas and Sterling who didn’t make the Ballon d’Or list) and some of the finest coaches.

England it is then by a whisker from Spain, followed by Germany. Do you agree?

Moyes will be Moyes

Photo by: Paul Townsend www.flickr.com

Photo by: Paul Townsend

David Moyes is back in management after agreeing a contract with Real Sociedad. It’s a bold step for a man whose dream job at Manchester United became a nightmare after just a few months. Lauded on his arrival at Old Trafford as Fergie’s ‘chosen one’ he was sacked 10 months later, looking like the ‘frozen one’ in the glare of the Glazer headlights.

I have written previously that I think Moyes undermined himself with his demeanour as Manchester United boss. Too often he looked daunted. This was not entirely unreasonable given that following Ferguson could never be less than daunting but he had to either hide it or get over it quickly. He didn’t really seem to do either.

Contrast Moyes’ demeanour with that of van Gaal, the Dutchman looks as though he’s never been daunted his life.

Relocating to Spain in a bid to rehabilitate his reputation is surely another daunting prospect for Moyes but I wish him well and I think he’ll succeed. He certainly made mistakes in Manchester but when you look at the start that van Gaal’s made with a much better squad, a reassessment of the difficulties endured by his predecessor is warranted.

Even signing Fellaini is starting to make some sort of sense. I still think that was a mistake actually but not the huge one that it initially appeared to be. A much bigger mistake was not performing immediate and radical surgery on the squad that he inherited from Ferguson. Not only was it necessary in itself it would also have helped to establish Moyes’ own authority at Manchester United.

Alas he didn’t and the authority that would have come from winning matches was somewhat hampered by the frequency with which his side lost them.

Moyes takes over a Sociedad side sitting 15th in La Liga. Of course new managers never take over sides that are winning do they? Oh wait, well, anyway, this side that he’s just assumed responsibility for have not been winning much of late and a period of rebuilding looks to be required.

The biggest challenge that Moyes will face in the first few months is the language barrier. He’ll be taking intensive Spanish classes but it will still be hard to get his players to fully understand what he wants from them. Moyes is a hands-on type of coach and so being properly understood will be all the more important for him.

It must be admitted though that some of Manchester United’s displays under him were so disjointed that you have to wonder if he gave the team talk in Spanish.

One man who knows what it’s like to venture abroad as a coach nursing a bruised reputation is Steve McClaren. He has warned Moyes that his head will probably be spinning to begin with until he starts to adapt to the culture and gets to know the league.

McLaren achieved great success with Twente in the Eredivisie, guiding them to the title. Real will probably win the league in Spain this season but it won’t be Sociedad. Moyes will content himself with more modest achievements from his new side.

He’s chosen another daunting assignment but hopefully he’s learned enough not to show it this time.