The English Premier League is one of the most entertaining and ferocious leagues in the world of football. Proven by the devastating and enthralling climax to the 2011/12 campaign. Never in any other league, have I seen so many twists, turns, peaks and troughs, as I have done in the most mundane of EPL seasons. Yet it was in a recent trip to Madrid, following a realization from the Euro’s that our Spanish and Italian rivals, are still, miles ahead.
It is not until you stand in the shadow of the Santiago Bernabeu that you truly appreciate its colossal nature. The ugly bulk of steal and brick, rising from behind the trees as you emerge from its metro station, like something from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. It is the black spot on the landscape, demanding that it be the center of attention, and this makes it, in some way, beautiful. Nothing like this graces England, no gut wrenching fear, just by the sight of the White and Blue badge of its tenants attached to the side. And there wasn’t even a game on when I visited. We have impressive stadiums, but more so for their age, or their ability to have survived the Germans bombs in the war. We look at our famed; Anfield, Old Trafford, Elland Road, places we are desperate to keep as old as possible. The Bernabeu gives the impression of hating the past, despite the success – looking to tear down anyone that denies it of the now – something we in the home of football, embrace, and nurture to a point of obsession.
This is not to say that we are doing it wrong, the history, for many fans, is the best part. Idolizing your legends, heroes, hating the long remembered villains, it is all part of our game. The point I am making, is not one of right or wrong, just of scale. The EPL has the highest views around the world, the highest sponsorships, the biggest TV deals, yet where we do not have the teams.
Look for example at the Italians. They stand there with a league, though often corrupt, offering some of the greatest rivalries in sport. Four or five teams, every season can, by right, compete for the title. Juventus, AC Milan, Inter, Roma, all fight for their place at the top, leaving each season as competitive as the last. No matter how many times we re-evaluate the top four, the EPL hasn’t a point in which any one of a number of teams will be champions. It is in-fact the king of the two-horse-race. The information, I learnt this summer, that threw my attention at this point, and actually sparked the reason for writing this, was the stat on Championship medals won by AC Milan over the last ten years: Two. This means that, some of the greatest players of all time; Pirlo, Inzaghi, Seedorf, Nesta (the list goes on) have, from their time with one of the great world clubs, only two winners medals, the same number they have Champions League medals – something that sounds ridiculous in EPL or even La Liga terms. Does that mean, on the idea of supply and demand, that the Serie A is more valued, or valuable as a championship to those that compete?
On the field we cannot begin to compare them, only a matter of days ago the English Champions were beaten by the Spanish champions, following a season where the English fifth-place won the competition. It is not a matter of results I am referring to here, not about the style of play or even the players playing – to some scale – it is about its appearance, and perception. It’s ranking in what football wants to be, against the other great world sports (NFL, Baseball, Rugby) and who is doing ‘it’ “better”.