Friday, November 9, 2012

English Premier League vs La Liga

(The following post was written by The Rocky Bracket who has previously contributed to this blog).

Football fans often debate about the most random topics. One of the fans’ favorite is of course:  the Premier League vs La Liga. Now all debates are mostly inconclusive as to which league really is better. That’s why we’ll settle the issue of the EPL vs La Primera once and for all (we won’t), by taking a look at the following criteria:

The FA
Everyone knows that the Spanish FA (the RFEF) is comprised of incompetent fools incapable of handling any matter in the league. Some of which include:

Clubs in Administration: There are about 27 clubs in some form of bankruptcy or administration between the 1st and 2nd divisions, as there’s no sporting penalty for economic mismanagement of clubs.

Players’ Strike: in 2011, the pretty dire state of the Spanish economy left clubs owing more than €40 million in unpaid wages to more than 200 players. La Liga players agreed to strike until every penny was paid, postponing the start of the 11-12 season for 2 weeks.

Unequal distribution of TV revenue: Contracts for audiovisual rights in Spain are negotiated by each club individually. Barcelona and Real Madrid get a little bit more than 50% of the €600 million pot and the 18 other clubs in la Liga are then made to scrap for leftovers. (TV revenue distribution and its consequences on the league deserves a post of its own in order to be tackled properly).

Racism: monkey chants and racial slurs are still regularly heard in most Spanish stadia.

Game times: The FA is unable to produce kick-off times for matches more than a week in advance and in some cases, have scheduled games to kick-off at 11.00 PM.

Now we all know that the English FA gets a lot of stick from English fans. But, and especially in comparison to its Spanish counterpart, it’s pretty organized and can hold its own when it comes to managing the league. Club mismanagement is not tolerated, there are no issues related to TV money distribution or playing times, and the last football players’ strike recorded was in the 1960’s (or so?). Of course there’s much room for improvement when it comes to other matters, like racism for example. However, the English are getting there: the FA recently convicted Terry of racism … enough said.

It’s been widely accepted that the EPL is the physical league while La Liga is much more technical. It’s that technical superiority that allows the Spanish to stand out though. The majority of players that made the trip to England have flourished there: Cazorla, Mata, Michu, Silva - and previously Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, even Torres in his Liverpool years. The “secret” lies in the fact that the Spanish focus on developing local talent and supporting homegrown players through youth academies. On the other hand, when we look at English players’ integration in Spanish tea… oh, right. 

Anyways, La Liga is also home to arguably the 2 best teams in the world, Barcelona and Real Madrid, the 2 best players of our generation, Messi and Ronaldo - you can also throw in Iniesta and Xavi for good measure - and has got the most watched rivalry in the world, El Clasico.
Yet still there is a case to be made in La Primera being a 2-horse race. You know there's a problem when the standings' table reads a gap of 30 points between 2nd placed Barcelona and perennial 3rd placed Valencia. In comparison, the Premier League was won on goal difference, with both Manchester clubs collecting 89 points during the season. But does this prove that the EPL is better? Not necessarily.
Here’s a look at recent clashes between English and Spanish teams in Europe: there was Atletico Madrid’s 4-1 battering of Chelsea in the Supercup and Valencia’s victorious cold night at Stoke. Real Madrid putting four goals past Spurs, Barcelona facing and dominating Manchester United in two separate finals in a span of three years. Athletic Bilbao totaling 70 percent possession and 25 shots in a 3-2 win against Manchester United (Athletic were the seventh best team in Spain whereas United were top in England).  Not to mention that in the last decade, three Spanish Clubs - Valencia, Sevilla and Atlético - have won the UEFA Cup/Europa League but no English club has.

Surprise surprise, it seems there are quality sides in La Liga besides the big two. People complaining that only 2 fixtures are worth watching in Spain – the clasicos – are those that don’t bother watching others matches. Any regular follower of la Primera will tell you that there are many interesting games, involving sides other than the Spanish Giants; watching Malaga, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao play can be pure delight. Which leads us to the following conclusion: La Liga doesn’t lack in quality. One can even say it has more quality than the EPL. It’s been accepted that Barcelona and Real Madrid are superior to anyone else, so maybe the Spanish giants’ hegemony has reached levels greater than not only Spanish teams, but also European teams. Maybe if they played in the Premier League, we would see the same discrepancy at the top of the English table.

English fans are renowned for their very … let’s call it fervent and committed support, both at home and away. Think of an English stadium, any stadium. All of them include an electrifying atmosphere, lots of chanting and full support throughout the game. Conversely, fans making up the crowds at the Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabeu are fickle, (much) less enthusiastic, and can go spells being absolutely silent.

Not much of a support. Still, if there’s anything we can take from this post, it’s that Madrid and Barcelona do not represent the whole of the Spanish league. A big chunk of Spanish stadia are intimidating and fiery grounds that could rival those of the Premier League – San Mames, Reyno de Navarra, Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, Mestalla, El Madrigal …

There’s however a difference in stadium attendance between the English and the Spanish. In 2011-2012, the Premier League registered an average of 34601, La Liga 28403. Since the average prices of seasonal tickets are similar in the 2 leagues, the difference in numbers is due to firstly - the average cost of La Liga tickets being higher than the Premiership (Premier League €44-La Liga €53) and secondly - the fact that before supporters purchase their tickets they cannot know what day the games will be played or what time they start. This is usually decided 10 to 14 days before the scheduled fixture. Once again, the shortcomings in La Primera are mainly due to the idiocy of the league organizers in Spain.

So in conclusion, who’s better?

The Bundesliga. No, that’s not a typo. The German league is recognized for its financial stability, ensured via the 50+1 rule – requiring club members to own a minimum of 51% of the club – and the tight monetary restrictions, regulating the percentage of turnover that can be spent on players’ salaries. It also supports development of local talent; in order to get their licenses, clubs looking to compete in the top tier are conditioned to create their own youth academies – all policies are courtesy of the German FA. TV revenue is distributed on a much more equal basis than say the Premiere league and (obviously) La Liga, resulting in one of the most competitive leagues in Europe: the German league had four different winners in the last five seasons; in comparison the EPL had three and La Liga two. The Bundesliga is also one of the least expensive leagues to watch – average ticket price is €30 – resulting in an average attendance of 42,690 fans.

In terms of entertainment, unpredictability, value for money and quality of football/players, the Bundesliga comes out on top of not only the EPL and La Liga but also Serie A and Ligue 1. The only stage where the Germans have failed to stamp their lead is European competitions. Could the Germans’ shortcoming result from their tight financial regulations and the European competitions’ heavy spending? The introduction of UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules should even the score between the leagues. And then, we’ll be able to properly judge the quality of German teams to that of their European counterparts.


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