Serie A, La Liga and the Premiership all voice strong claims to be the finest football league in the world today. However, which of these has the most genuine claim. The recognition of being the best is an honor that dictates not just bragging rights, but also the ability to draw the finest players and sponsorship contracts to secure the mantle yet further. There are countless factors to consider; the players the leagues have now, the trophies won by their clubs, the quality of football played and the stature of their various sides. Does that tactical catenaccio of the Italians outweigh the physical pressure of the Premiership? Would the top-heavy flair of La Liga continually overcome the strength of an English midfield? How do the Mediterranean cousins compare?
In comparing these various brands of 'the beautiful game' we must consider the many factors that make them great individually. The history, the present and the future are all crucial in contrasting these various brands of and eventually building a perception of whether one does stand above the others.
The first and often the most favored way of fans comparing championships, who has the best players? The natural assumption following this is that Spain hold the upper hand in this argument; especially given that both World (Ronaldinho) and European (Fabio Cannavaro) Players of Year play in La Liga. Also Spain can boast many other great talents; Madrid have van Nistelrooy, Raul, Robinho and Beckham, Barca can boast Ronaldinho, Deco, Messi, Eto'o and Zambrotta. Other clubs have similarly immense performers, David Villa and Joaquin Sanchez at Valencia, Riquelme at Villarreal to name but a few.
Italy can boast a similarly impressive list of galacticos, however, possibly due to the more pedestrian nature of Serie A the players have a tendency to be of a slightly more advanced age. Internazionale (or Inter) boast the most impressive roster; Crespo, Ibrahimovic, Veron, Stankovic, Figo and Samuel all ply there trade for the Nerazzurri. Their city rivals Milan also have a cornucopia of stars; despite losing their talisman Andriy Shevchenko to Chelsea in the summer, they have one world beater in Riccy Kaka'. Also players as renowned as Andrea Pirlo, Alessandro Nesta and Alberto Gilardino front a cast that contains talent enough to challenge for any trophy. Also worth mentioning is that the Milan rear-guard still contains the legendary Paulo Maldini as captain. With the shadow of Calciopoli hanging over the Italian top flight, what should be mentioned is the exodus from Serie A that occurred over the summer saw many of their finest individuals leave the division.
Zambrotta and Thuram left Juventus for Barcelona, likewise Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson joined their Bianconieri coach Fabio Capello in Madrid, and former Serie A favourites like Alessandro del Piero, Gigi Buffon, Pavel Nedved and David Trezeguet have all decided to stay loyal to the old lady and ply their trade in Serie B for a season. As mentioned, Shevchenko also left the Rossoneri for Chelsea.
Whilst discussing Chelsea we must clearly outline that they are the major player in European football today. The premise that currently exists in football is that, when it comes to the transfer market, the Premiership champions are the team that all others must follow. Due to the seemingly unlimited funds stumped up by their Russian oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, Chelsea have amassed a team of stars to match any other club in the world. With Terry and Lampard already present prior to the Russian benefactor's input, players like Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba, Joe Cole and, as discussed, Shevchenko. The Premiership can also boast some of the world's finest players in Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal; Rooney, Rio and Ronaldo at Manchester United and Liverpool's talismanic skipper Steven Gerrard.
The important thing to outline when comparing the undoubtedly huge talents on show in these various leagues is that although we are examining them from the perspective of now, the future is also a vital factor. As we discussed Serie A does tend to boast more seasoned galacticos whereas the Premiership can argue that, in Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas, they have some of the most promising talent. Spanish football could also argue that their spread is encompasses youth, with youngsters such as Sergio Aguero and Fernando 'el Nino' Torres at Atletico, Lionel Messi at Barca and one name to watch in Matias Fernandez, a Chilean playmaker due to join Villarreal in January.
Football in the Twenty First Century is far more than the game it was in previous decades. It is now a business, and one of the world's biggest at that. Transfer prices are now such that it appears any 'Tom, Dick or Harry' is worth £15 million. Player's wages have also experienced astronomical rises. This is to the extent that £3 million per year is not considered to be a completely outrageous wage for a top international player. With the costs to clubs continually rising, somebody is required to fulfill these extravagant fiscal demands.
Sponsorship, television rights and marketing revenue are now utilized by top clubs that are now selling a 'brand' rather than a sport. From product association to shirts emblazoned with trade names, the marketing aspect of major clubs and leagues is paramount to the strength therein.
Annually an accountancy firm called Deloitte release details of top European club's financial incomes over the previous season. Essentially a 'rich-list' of sides, comparing their viability and market strength in today's football world. The most recent edition of this list is from the 2005 season and the zenith of the list is almost totally dominated by our 'big three leagues'.
The 2005 rankings dictate that the world's market leader in football terms is now Real Madrid. The previous years had been dominated by the Manchester United marketing machine; however the Castilian club took the mantle from their English rivals. Much of this change in fortunes has been put down to the 'David Beckham factor'.
Former England skipper David Beckham is as famous for his private life as he is for his football. Married to a 'Spice-Girl', the midfielder looks more like a pop star than a footballer, sporting numerous tattoos, continually outrageous hair styles and a multiplicity of product endorsement contracts. Described as being the 'most photographed sportsman ever', Beckham is worth his weight in Euros to his club side. The fact that Manchester United, who previously topped the rich-list, were dethroned by Beckham's new club Real Madrid is regarded as proof of the man's value from a marketing perspective. However, it is worth mentioning that Madrid's on-field performances have declined while their finances improved, and a more recent list may also hint at Beckham's own on-pitch decline as a force in world football.
The top ten teams in the list are, with the exception of Bavarian giants Bayern Munich, all from Spain, Italy or England. The majority is dominated by the Premiership as we see Manchester United (2nd), Chelsea (5th), Liverpool (8th) and Arsenal (10th), this is followed by three Serie A clubs in Milan (3rd), Juventus (4th) and Inter (9th) and Spain's La Liga only has two top ten entries, despite Real topping the list being followed by rivals Barcelona in 6th. In viewing these figures, we must firstly emphasise that they are not as up to date as we would like, also should a more recent list be compiled we would surely see the effect of Calciopoli on the Italian sides.
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