Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan - No. None of the above play in the 'Best League in the World', writes Naveenan Thanendra.
I know what you are thinking. In the debate for the best league in world football there can only be two contenders. The Premier League or La Liga
To me this assertion is well off the mark. Not only are these two leagues behind what I consider to be the best league in the world, the foundations they are currently propped up by underpins exactly why the Bundesliga has managed to surpass them.
Before I proceed, let me be perfectly clear. Determining which league in world football is of course a subjective matter that can easily change over the course of years, but I believe that there is enough reasons at present a case that the Bundesliga has a model that could establish them as the world’s best league for years to come.
If we look at one of the Premier League’s biggest boasts, it is that there is a high level of competition across the board and unlike La Liga, there is never an easy game.
While some may contend this by saying that year in year out there is regularly a group of 4 teams that separates themselves by being so far ahead of the rest of the pack. However, this is not a phenomenon unique to the Premier League it is usually more of a reflection of the teams which has a stronger cash flow.
Instead it is the results that teams such as Southampton have achieved against the bigger teams in the league that validates the argument with regards to the level of competition. That is until you look at the Bundesliga.
Of all the entrants into European competition from the major leagues, only the Bundesliga can say that all 7 of their teams have made it through to the knockout stages. So while the Premier League teams can say that any team can win on a particular weekend, the Bundesliga can point to a higher level of performance across the board, as proven by their displays in Europe.
With that being said, La Liga could raise the case that even if there are some games which Barcelona and Real Madrid could deal with in their sleep, the league is home to the best teams in Europe. Barcelona are viewed by most as the best team of their generation, if not ever.
Add to that the strength of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid (current holders of the Europa League and European Super Cup) and a strong defence starts to take shape. That is until you consider the fact that all the German teams topped their respective Champions League groups, with Dortmund dominating a group that not only contained Real Madrid but also the Premier League champions as well.
Furthermore, Bayern are looking extremely strong on all fronts this season even more so than their team that made it to two of the three last Champions League finals.
However, level of competition is not the only determinant I have used to compare the standard of leagues. In the current state of the world the effective management of finances is of extreme importance.
We have seen many clubs crippled by financial mismanagement but there could yet be more as there is an alarming number of teams throughout the European leagues that are operating with a large pool of debt on their books.
For La Liga, a large proportion of the problem stems from the fact that the TV revenue is distributed unequally with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid taking the lion’s share. However, in both La Liga and the Premiership alike, clubs make losses and find themselves caught up in trouble because they resort to overspending based on potential future success.
Unfortunately for most teams this success either does not come or is particularly limited. When this is compounded over a number of years then you have end results such as Portsmouth FC, whose story is now well documented.
Despite these instances occurring there is very little desire for regulation to manage their costs in Spain or England. The Bundesliga on the other hand takes a very different stance. In order to participate in the Bundesliga, the member teams require a license. To obtain said license teams must agree to allow the league to oversee their financial records in order to ensure cost controls.
So strict are the Bundesliga’s rules that they are even more stringent than FIFA’s fair play rules and any breaches can even result in relegation from the league.
However, cost management is not the only contribution that the Bundesliga has. One thing the German league can pride themselves on is the fact that there is a greater amount of fan involvement, especially when compared against Spain and England. A primary reason for this is because the Bundesliga does not allow one person from owning more than 49% of a club.
This is in place to prevent a growing trend, especially in the Premier League, where there is a flurry of foreign investment but a decreasing amount of fan satisfaction. While some may take satisfaction in the Premier League for wild transfer spending, the fans are being hit in the pocket with ticket prices rising beyond comprehension, especially when you note like-for-like comparisons with German teams.
The most alarming comparison for this in my opinion is that the highest ticket price for a single Arsenal match can reach £100, yet a Bayern Munich season ticket can cost as little as £104. It is no wonder that average attendance is falling in England but is as strong as ever in Germany.
Admittedly, there have been a few teams that have suggested the Bundesliga’s rules restrict foreign investment but evidence has shown that not only have the Bundesliga teams’ finances strengthened, but they have been able to negotiate a much improved TV deal.
Commercially it may not be on par with England as of yet but that is where the Pep Guardiola deal comes in. Given that major clubs (especially Chelsea) were after him, for Bayern Munich to sign him was nothing short of a coup.
As one of the most talented young managers in the world, it is without a doubt that his arrival will bring about much greater media attention for the league. This can only further encourage star players to now ply their trade in Germany.
However, perhaps the league’s best attribute is one that keeps Germany so competitive on the international stage. That attribute is the member teams’ desire to invest up to €100m a year on their academies rather than splurging money into the transfer market.
It is no surprise that we see a constant production of talent from each team and it is no doubt a factor, which managed to reel in Pep Guardiola who places such a high regard on a strong youth system.
So while Germany is doing so many right things in establishing itself as the best league around, it will have to be seen if they can sustain this feat.
In the coming years they are going to be challenged by the Premier League’s huge new TV deal, the re-emergence of Serie A, as well as the increasing popularity of Ligue 1.
Having said that, the increase in strength of German teams looks like a changing of the guard is under way and if the current trajectory of imrovement is continued then they could enjoy a period of dominance in European football for many years to come.
image: © peterfuchs