Premier League, LaLiga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1. These are the most popular football leagues, some might say in that order, in Europe today and in the World. But which of those can be called “the best”?

Spoiler: it’s not as easy as you think to determine.

Other Spoiler: It’s not the Premier League.

I’m going to explain, as simply as I can, how to judge the best league in the world, by all the criteria most fans like to use. So the next time you’re in a Twitter argument with a Premier League fan, you get to school them like your favorite account Paracelsus (@DoctorDrugFree) does with these simple points!

COMPETITION

This is the most used criterion in establishing the best league in the world, often by Premier League fans. The argument goes that the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world, because every other league is dominated by one or two teams, hence those leagues aren’t competitive but the Premier League is. This logic is myopic and misguided for two reasons.

First, winning the league is a goal some teams compete for, but not the goal all teams compete for. Judging the competitive balance of a league by looking at just the title race is like judging the productivity of an office by looking at the CEO’s office alone. It’s a measure, yes, but it’s not the only measure.

Second, the idea that other leagues are dominated by one or two teams while the PL enjoys a variety of winners is simply untrue. Let’s look at the winners of every league title amongst the big four over the past ten years.

A look at the past winners of the top five leagues in Europe over the last ten years.
A look at the past winners of the top five leagues in Europe over the last ten years.

 

EPL: 4 champions
LIG: 3 champions
BUN: 4 champions
SER: 3 champions
LGE: 6 champions

As you can see from this nifty table, almost all leagues have had a variety of champions in recent years. Sure one or two teams dominate for several years at the start, beginning, or end of this period, but that’s football. Looking deeper into the title races of those years will surely tell you all you need to know about how competitive they were.

As far as I’m concerned, the true measure of competition in a league is about the points differential between European football and relegation. After all, if the ultimate reward of league football is European competition, and the ultimate demise is relegation, isn’t the difference between the points tallies required to achieve those goals a valid measure of how competitive the league as a whole truly was? Let’s see how those same leagues fare in this regard, but for the sake of brevity only for last season.

LIG – 60-39 = 21 points
SER – 61-39 = 22 points
BUN – 50-37 = 13 points
EPL – 66-39 = 27 points
LIG – 58-39 = 19 points
Yikes. 27 points was the difference between 5th place and 17th place in England. Every other league floated between 19 and 22 points, with exception of the Bundesliga who had 13, but bear in mind that they play 4 fewer games than the others as they have 18 teams. When we look at it from these perspective, we see that the most competitive league is actually the French Ligue 1. Are they the best? Maybe, but most people will say no.

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ENTERTAINMENT VALUE

This one is trickier to quantify because entertainment is a subjective barometer of league quality. Seven goal thrillers might be entertaining to some, while highly tactical 1-1 draws between two great managers might be entertaining to others.

The Premier League, admittedly, has the most dramatic, back-and-forth matches of the five leagues (although some might say this is down to the defending being the worst of the five) so it has a good shout at being the most entertaining.

The Serie A has the most tactically versatile and varied teams, so most matches are a wankfest for tactics aficionados, especially believers of three-at-the-back formations. This, however, may turn off many casual fans as they view such matches as “boring” and “uneventful”.

The Bundesliga has the most attacking quality of all the leagues, and according to FourFourTwo and Opta metrics, the league has averaged the most number of goals per match every season since 2010-11. If you like attacking football, that’s for you.

Ligue 1 is not very popular around the world as many TV stations do not cover it, however from the few matches I watch, it seems to be a mix of the Premier League and the Bundesliga. Fairly attacking but not too much variation in terms of tactics.

It’s generally accepted though, that the quality of football in La Liga is the best among all five, and this is agreed to hold the highest entertainment value. La Liga’s football is played to the highest level, and this is exemplified in my final point.

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CONTINENTAL SUCCESS

In this aspect, La Liga wins easily. The winner of the Champions League, Europa League, Club World Cup and Super Cup has come from the Spanish La Liga every single year since 2014. This is the criterion that many La Liga fans will use to defend the quality of their league, and it carries the most weight. It’s very hard to argue with trophies, after all. And trophies are in abundance in Spain.

Total dominance by the Spanish La Liga
Total dominance by the Spanish La Liga

CONCLUSION

At the end of the day, though, the best league in the world depends on who you ask. Until there is a round-robin tournament wherein the best players from each league compete against each other, with the winner being declared the best league, there will be no way to decisively determine which league is the best.

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As for what I think? As a biased Milan fan, Serie A is levels above the rest. Which league do you think is the best?

 

Article by: Paracelsus, @DoctorDrugFree

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