Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Is the English Premier League the best in the world?

Graham Fisher in Editorial 25 Apr 2008


It is often mentioned by the football pundits on television as well as the managers and players in the game that the English Premier League is the best league in the world. This view tends to come from England! Is there any truth in the claim?

The fact that three of the four semi-finalists in this season’s European Champions League would certainly seem to support the claim.

In the late seventies and early eighties English clubs dominated in Europe. Following the ban of English clubs after the Heysel disaster in 1985 that dominance has not been repeated in terms of winning trophies.

Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992 only two English teams have won the Champions League. Manchester United in 1999 and Liverpool in 2005. Liverpool and Arsenal were losing finalists in 2007 and 2006 but there have only been four final appearances in fourteen years. In the same period there have been nine Italian finalists and seven Spanish.

Having said that, this season will be the fourth year in a row that at least one English team has appeared in the final. That statistic alone may be enough to suggest that the Premier League is the top league right now.

Perhaps the more negative statistic for the Premier League comes from the UEFA Cup. The competition for the best of the rest. The only win for England came in 2001 when Liverpool were victorious. There have been only two other final appearances, Arsenal in 2000 and Middlesbrough in 2006. In the same period, there have been thirteen Italian finalists and five Spanish. In the last four years there have been four Spanish finalists, involving three different teams.

There are a number of ways to interpret these statistics and facts. The first obvious conclusion is that the English Premier League is dominant in Europe with four finalists in the last four years of the Champions League and all four English clubs making regular appearances in the semi-final.

The second possibility is that the relative failure of the English teams in the UEFA Cup is due to the fact that all four of the top clubs progress in the Champions League and therefore don’t drop into the lesser competition. The 2005 final was won by CSKA Moscow who had failed to qualify out of the group stages of the Champions League, but Sevilla have won the last two tournaments having been in from the start. Of the four semi-finalists this season only Rangers are Champions League drop-outs.

The third possibility is that the top four English clubs are the best in Europe but that the rest of the Premier League does not match up to that billing. Could it be that the big four in England deserve that title of the strongest league in the world, but that after them, the strength in depth of the other leagues around Europe is greater than in England?

It is interesting to look at the top four positions in the English, Spanish and Italian leagues over the past four seasons. Going on the current positions, only five English teams have filled the top four spots over four years. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have been ever present whilst Liverpool finished fifth one year, incidentally the year they won the Champions League, allowing Everton to appear in the top four.

In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid are always in the top four but over four years six other teams have joined them. Villareal, Real Betis, Valencia, Osasuna, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid have all made top four finishes.

In Italy, Inter are ever presents but they have been joined in the top four by seven different clubs, Milan, Juventus, Udinese, Roma, Chievo, Lazio and Fiorentina.

Those facts suggest that the strength in depth in the Italian and Spanish leagues may actually be greater than that of the Premier League. The relative failure of two of England’s better teams, Everton and Tottenham in this season’s UEFA Cup, losing against teams from Italy and Holland, would seem to back up this particular theory.

The gap between the top four and the rest in England is growing by the season. From goal difference only, to eight points last season and eight points and growing this season.

English Premier League football is watched and admired around the world for its pace, passion and commitment. Whether it is the best league in the world or not I would suggest is open to question. I don’t have access to the viewing figures but I would guess that the number of people who tune in to a game involving one of the big four probably attracts a slightly bigger audience than a game between, say, Middlesbrough and Blackburn.

The Premier League is a fantastic competition, but so are other leagues around Europe. The top four English clubs are currently in a position of dominance but that is more so in England itself than it is in Europe. If the top four from Italy, Spain and England played each other I would be reasonably confident of the English teams doing well. If the rest of the teams in the leagues played against each other I would be surprised to see the English sides come out on top.

We will never be able to give a definitive answer to the question but maybe English pundits should consider the statistics a little more before saying that the Premier League is the best in the world. It could be another overused phrase to put alongside ‘world class’.


Graham Fisher



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Van Basten
Van Basten
14 years ago

Very insightful piece that has a lot of merit. One thing that also must be included when you refer to “the best league in the world” is the type of football that is being played. Is it attractive enough to attract a huge audience? When it comes to attractive football, the Premiership is without a doubt the best. In Serie A there are usually lack of goals when the bigger teams play each other due to the standard of defensive tactics that Italy is so famous for. In La Liga, there is very little flow to the game where the… Read more »

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