Rest day at Russia 2018 is a perfect excuse to indulge in one of football’s favourite topics: What is the world’s best league competition? Those who prefer Primera Liga usually point to the preeminence of Spanish clubs in Uefa competitions as a symbol of the competition’s superiority. And they have a point.
Barcelona (2009, 2011, 2015) and Real Madrid (2014, 2016, 2017, 2018) have won the world’s most famous club competition, the Uefa Champions League in seven out of the last ten years. Chelsea’s 2012 triumph is the Premiership’s sole success during that period. Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan (2010) and Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich (2013) are the only other clubs to interrupt the Barca-Real duopoly.
If you extend the analogy to Europe’s lesser competition – the Europa League, you’ll discover Spanish near complete hegemony as Seville (3), and Atletico Madrid (3) have won six titles, compared to two for England – Chelsea (2013) and Manchester United (2017). Porto (2011) and Shakhtar Donesk are the other teams to break Spain’s stranglehold on Europe. The question is: why?
The easy way out is to point to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who have won ten Ballon D’Ors between them during the aforesaid period. However, the pair’s continued failure to shine at the World Cup where they are yet to score a goal in knock out phases of the tournament proves Premier League clubs are not punching their full weight in Europe.
Put more boldly, EPL based stars are the dominant force of Russia 2018. All 23 of England’s World Cup semifinalists are Premier League based whereas Roberto Martinez’s Belgium has up to ten EPL footballers in their 23-man squad – (Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld, Marouane Fellaini, Nacer Chadli, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Michy Batshuayi).
The Premiership’s case is made even stronger if you narrow down the argument to starting line ups. In addition to England’s starting eleven, Belgium started eight EPL players in their quarterfinal victory over Brazil. Add onto that France’s four (Hugo Lloris, Ngolo Kante, Paul Pogba and Olivier Giroud), and you have 24 out of the 44 players likely to start the World Cup semifinals as Premier League stars.
The EPL already provides higher entertainment value because up to six teams can challenge for the title.
To cut a long analogy short, it won’t be long before the EPL stops Primera Liga’s dominance. But for that to happen, managers of Top Six clubs must put on their thinking caps in the same way Belgium’s Roberto Martinez, France’s Didier Deschamps and England’s Gareth Southgate have done at Russia 2018.