Is the Premier League eating the rest of football?

April 10, 2008


It was with more than the usual haste that I strode off from the Nou Camp after Frank Rijkaard’s customary non-committal news conference on the eve of Barcelona’s Champions League match against Schalke on Tuesday. Liverpool against Arsenal was being shown on terrestrial TV here in Spain and it was one of those games that you didn’t want to miss.

So I settled down to my usual Reuters expenses supper of a bottle of beer and a Kit Kat from the hotel minibar and wasn’t disappointed. For sheer breathless excitement, intensity and entertainment the match couldn’t be beaten. The game had the Spanish commentators gasping with delight at the football being played by both sides, the commitment from the players and the non-stop support from the fans.

The next day the Spanish media was awash with tributes to the English game, with sports daily AS even managing to bring in an unexpected reference to Nelson and Trafalgar in their editorial on the match.

The Admiral’s famous “England expects every man to do his duty,” was the motto of English football, said the paper’s director Alfredo Relaño.

“There may have been almost no English players on the pitch, but this was pure English football,” he said. “It was open, attacking football, full of commitment, enthusiasm, risk and nobility.

“The fact that there were few English players involved showed that this sort of football has nothing to do with genetics but with the atmosphere in the English game, one of respect, fair play, solidarity and a job well done. Players who in other leagues are cheats, moaners and defensive turn into exemplary competitors in England. This is how football should be played.”

Now Alfredo may have got a little carried away with his purple prose but there is little doubt that with three sides in the Champions League semi-finals for the second year in a row England is without doubt the dominant force in European club football (See Mike Collett’s analysis and lots of other stuff on our main soccer site).

The contrast with Spanish football at the moment couldn’t be sharper. Admittedly they still have two sides in European competitions, but the quality in La Liga has undergone a worrying downturn in the last two seasons.

The patient, short-passing game favoured by so many Spanish sides is past its sell-by date. The stop-start nature of matches in the Primera Liga does little to prepare teams for the intensity of European encounters, while the players are struggling to match with the sheer physicality of English-based players.

Where the best players were once clamouring to join Spanish sides, an increasing number are now looking to England first and it isn’t just because of the money on offer. Being part of a top English club now appears to offer the best chance of success in the continent’s elite competition.

I get the impression it is the same story in other European leagues. Is there anything they can do to stop the English domination?

Simon Baskett

PHOTO: Carlos Tevez scores with a diving header to give Manchester United a 1-0 win on the night and a 3-0 aggregate victory over AS Roma in their Champions League quarter-final. Roma were Italy’s last representatives in this year’s competition, April 9. REUTERS/Darren Staples


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Great piece Simon, totally agree. Here in Italy there is almost as much coverage of the Premier League as there is of Serie A. A big separate in Gazzetta on Theo Walcott today for example.
The problem is money, most clubs in Italy are actually quite skint in comparison to English sides. Tax laws dont help in recruiting top players either.

Posted by Mark Meadows | Report as abusive

I don’t think there is any doubt that the English Premiership is now the dominant force in European football, just as the Spanish league was a few years ago, and the Italian league before that, etc. I don’t think it has anything to do with anything inherent in the ‘Englih game’ (whatever that may be). English clubs played like that 5 years ago and regularly failed to make much of an impression in European competition. These things run un cycles; Italian and Spanish clubs facing several years of ‘failure’ will regenerate and find ways to compete and the wheel will continue to turn…

Posted by Gonzalo | Report as abusive

Nice one, Simon. English football has stepped up a gear and clearly the rest of Europe is struggling to keep up. For all that, I still think Barcelona could nick the Champions League. The big question for England supporters remains why the England internationals playing in the Champions League can’t produce anything like that form for their country. If that was Steven Gerrard’s worst game for Liverpool, I wonder how he describes some of the performances he served up during successive World Cups and the last European Championship?

Posted by Jon | Report as abusive

Good piece Simon.

From a Spanish perspective, I think the thing that has got people in the Spanish game worried is the relative weakness of the top two – contrasted with the Premiership. The second tier of teams have been weaker for quite some time (aside from the odd exception: Sevilla, Villarreal etc).However, Madrid and Barcelona have always been on an equal footing with the rest of Europe, regardless of what the rest are doing. We are now seeing a particularly unconvincing Barcelona in the CL and the best of a bad bunch – Real Madrid – about to win La Liga. When one of those two aren’t up there, then people really start to worry. As Clemente recently said ‘neither of them can play for a pepper ( for toffee?)’.

Should Spain be worried? I don’t think so. For while many of the country’s best players are plying their trade in the Premiership – they are learning their trade in Spain. And that looks set to continue – just look at the Spanish under 17’s. The fact is that the Premiership might have the cash – but it is in Spain where it chooses to spend it: long term that’s healthier for Spain than it is for English clubs, surely.

He fact is that many of the best players on show on Tuesday evening were Spanish means that they will take some of that ‘English passion’ back home with them. Granted, the English clubs have always had the passion, but it is only recently that they have and the talent. While majority of the talent on show continues to be called names like ‘Fernando, Javier, Cesc and Pepe’ and managed by guys called ‘Rafa’ – then I don’t think that, long term, we can start championing the demise of Spain and the supremacy of English football just yet. (And Simon, next time you’re in the tribuna de prensa at the Camp Nou – I’ll say Hi). ga_review

Posted by Lee | Report as abusive

It’s funny. German football has had quite a decent season but I can’t see it being able to compete with England any time soon. Bayern showed real ambition for the first time in ages by bringing in Franck Ribery, Luca Toni, Miroslav Klose, etc, etc but it’s going to take another massive investment if they are to get to the semi-finals of the Champions League next season.
Would Bayern, or any other German team for that matter, be prepared to pay the sort of money you need to spend to bring in players like Torres, Mascherano, or to pack their squad with high quality subs? I can’t see it.
I think we’re reaching the stage where England is in a league of its own.

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

Great post Simon. I had a season tickt at Sevilla the year that they won the UEFA Cup for the first time, and had high hopes that they were putting together a squad that would enable the club to take on Real and Barcelona for the title on a regular basis. The clubs sporting director, Monchi had put together a swuad where there were at least two quality players covering every position (except right back where Hinkel never really got it together and Daniel Alves had to do most of the work). However the tragic death of Antonio Puerta and the departure of Juande Ramos (for more money at Spurs) seem to have slowed the club’s progress significantly. On top of that some key players POULSEN/LUIS FABIANO/ALVES etc seem to be keen on leaving in the Summer which will really put the breaks on things.

Spain has a top four in theory but if you compare the likes of Athletico Madrid (who lost to Bolton in the UEFA cup!!!!) to Liverpool and Arsenal …. the gulf between the two leagues seems to be underlined!!!

I wonder if Sevilla can get it together again next season?? (hope so)

Posted by Owen | Report as abusive

yeah, English football totally gives people the best chance to win in Europe. /sarcasm


Can we PLEASE stop the madness? The Prem had ONE good year in the CL (so far) if they put 4 in the semis the next 2 years then we can suggest that they are the best league by far.

Posted by papa bear | Report as abusive

I do agree that English soccer is dominating right now, and i personally am a big fan of the fast paced all-out style of play used in the Premier league. But i would still be hard pressed to claim that the English league is the best in the world. Sure the big four are monsters on the world stage, but what about the rest of the league. The sign of a good league is when not only the big clubs are clawing for the championship, like in Spain you have and Barcelona constanly worrying about the likes of Villareal, Atl. Madrid, even Valencia. You don’t really have those great mid-tier teams in the premier league. In the end the championship is solely for the big four.

Posted by Jogre | Report as abusive

Papa Bear is right, we can’t just let 1 season determine the strength of a league. EPL just SEEMS dominant. But when you look at the big picture (like in that list) and also England’s international team, it tells otherwise. Here’s another statistic. The teams that have won the most CL trophies are as respectively 1) Real Madrid 2) AC Milan 3) Liverpool.

The reason why EPL sems dominant is probably due to its undisputed popularity and anyway, here’s my take on why EPL appeals more than other leagues… commentators. I don’t know about where everyone else is at but here in Singapore, the English commentating for La Liga and Serie A are dead boring. And no, it is not local commentating but I suspect is from ESPN themselves or whoever provides the games internationally.

There’s no doubt that these leagues are as fun to watch… sometimes… but you really need some crisp clear and interesting commentating.

Also crowd/atmosphere noise on TV. It seems to me that for Serie A and La Liga atmosphere sounds, I can only hear a long drawn drone of some air horn or static whereas the production values of the EPL is much higher and you can actually hear singing and decent crowd noise.

Posted by Five Times | Report as abusive

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Posted by SekadarBlog – Inggris Mendominasi Eropa? | Report as abusive

Just one point to add – for the fourth season in a row there will be an English club in the final of the Champions League so it is not just a question of one freak season.

Posted by Simon Baskett | Report as abusive

Interesting that there are some out there already wanting to be negative about the English clubs by saying maybe if we do it fo another couple of years.Are their memories so bad that they have already forgotten how we dominated the champions cup with Liverpool, Nottingham Forrest and then Aston Villa. So yes this domination does come in a full circle.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

i am in uganda but our domestic league is down becose of too much interest in EPL.people rarely watcht SL OR BL on cable networks becoz the games are slow,commentators bore,and local media covers to much of EPL.can u imagine that local radio presenters have spent the last days talking about ARSENAL V MAN U game?its the hottest news in town.front pages here in uganda are full of pictures of RONALDO and ROONEY instead of the pictures of corrupt government people in GreatBritain thank GOD for premiership and your grand fathers that tought us ENGLISH.indeed the market is big and will grow bigger so long as people here english commentaries and spanish french or german.You opened our eyes and were addicted to what the blue,red and white can give us.MAY GOD BLESS MANU and EPL

Posted by Ismail | Report as abusive

Hey Simon,

countries dominating football is cyclical, but the current domination in coverage is probably aided by the financially strong big 4 in EPL.

One thing that is not cyclical is the lack of skill level in the average English player, and the rudimentary style of English football. To illustrate the point, how many English players play regularly for the big 4? How has England fared in international competition lately, like the last three decades?

If you compare with the equally fast and physical Bundesliga, the average German player seems more technically sound than they English counterpart.


Posted by Victor | Report as abusive

Is anyone forgetting the fact that England wasn’t able to qualify for Euro 2008!!?? At the moment Italy are the World Champions and Champions League holders. Spain rarely produces at international level and England never produces, whereas Italy seems to always have a very strong national team and strong domestic league. Fiorentina shall win the Uefa Cup this year and Italy shall win Euro 2008. Capello is coach of England. And most importantly here in Italy we have more sunshine than England. Lets be realistic…..

Rome, Florence and Venice are better than London, Bristol and Leeds anyday…..

Posted by Fabian | Report as abusive

[…] among football writers and administrators and to claims that the English Premier League is “eating the rest of football.” This curiously gruesome but nevertheless oft-employed metaphor, which depicts the Premier […]

Posted by On Beasts and the Barclays Premier League – The Run of Play | Report as abusive

hi guys….everyone keeps discussing about epl being better than la liga and serie a but what about la liga vs serie a???…i think serie a is obviously better than la liga coz in serie a u have 4 potential title contenders whilst in spain u have 2(u know who are they).and the likes of fiorentina and lazio can give villareal,atletico madrid n valencia a run for there money……i agree than real and barca are better than top 4 in italy but overall serie a is way tooo gud for la liga!!!

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