Analysis: What is the Best Football League in the World?

April 09, 2018

- Grant Whittington

In life, there are simply some arguments that you can never win.

This is especially true in the world of sport, where entrenched loyalties and partisan support make it hard to convince others of your opinion. If you look at the ongoing debate as to which is the best of Europe’s top five leagues, for example, you’ll note that people depend to have strong views regardless of how much football they watch in England, Germany, France, Spain and Italy.

We love an impossible challenge at the Bet Hut, however, and decided to compare Europe’s big five leagues based on a number of different factors. So, let’s find out which one is the best!

Attendance and Viewership

Those connected with the EPL often talk about the quality of its product and its huge popularity across the globe. Despite this, match attendances in the Premier League have declined marginally in recent times, making it hard to determine its rightful place in the pantheon of top leagues.

In terms of global viewership, the Premier League remains as dominant as ever. The EPL is carried by over 80 broadcasters around the world, for example, while games are also shown in a total of 212 global territories. The average EPL game is also watched by more than 12 million people, and no other league can come close to matching this.

In fact, each La Liga game draws an average of just 2 million viewers, although this figure excludes Real Madrid and Barcelona who negotiate their own, independent television contracts. Similarly, Italy’s Serie A draws an average of 4.5 million viewers per game, while each Bundesliga match entertains around 2 million people around the world.

The Bundesliga has evolved considerably during the last decade, however, to the point where it now boasts the highest average match attendance of Europe’s top five leagues. At the end of last season, an average of 41,500 fans attended matches in the German top flight, while the corresponding figure for the Premier League during the same period is just 35,820.

These two leagues are still well out in front of their rivals, however, with La Liga (27,630), Serie A (22,160) and Ligue 1 (21,030) having seen their average attendances fall incrementally in recent times.

Verdict: While the Premier League is by far the most watched league in the world, the Bundesliga appears to be more popular in its own country. Still, it’s hard to argue with the global popularity of the EPL, making it the best in terms of appeal and entertainment.

Quality and Goals per Game

On the subject of entertainment, it’s fair to say that most fans enjoy games that are laden with goals and attacking intent. Sure, purists may prefer intricate tactical battles which also include solid and disciplined defending, but most people consider the number of goals scored per game to be a key metric when determining which league is best.

As of October last year, it became apparent that La Liga boasted the highest goals per game ratio of Europe’s big five leagues (2.86). This was the fourth highest number across more than 30 European leagues, and perhaps reflected the quality of attacking players that ply their trade in Spain.

Next up was the Bundesliga, which trailed narrowly behind La Liga with an average of 2.83 goals per game. Serie A wasn’t far behind with 2.77 goals scored for every game played, with the Premier League somewhat surprisingly languishing behind with just 2.75.

Then came Ligue 1, which trailed in 16th place overall with just 2.61 goals scored per game in the French top flight.

Interestingly, the EPL has seen a slight decline in the average goals scored per game, allowing three of the other top five leagues to overtake it. The fact that Serie A now produces more goals per 90 minutes than the Premier League is particularly striking, as the Italian top flight was once renowned for its defensive qualities and focus on attritional football.

Verdict: While goals alone cannot be used to judge the quality of a league, a high ratio of successful strikes per game is indicative of an entertaining spectacle that wows crowds. In this respect, La Liga and Bundesliga are undoubtedly top dogs, while Serie A is arguably the most improved league over the course of the last decade.

The Coefficient Rankings

Now we come to a real humdinger of a metric, and one which reflects how well clubs from Europe’s top five leagues perform in continental competitions.

While England dominated UEFA’s coefficient rankings between 2005 and 2011 (during which time the EPL boasted a total of 12 semi-finalists, seven finalists and two winners), La Liga has since overtaken the English top flight. In fact, Spain and La Liga have heavily outscored and outperformed the Premier League in each of the last four years, topping UEFA’s coefficient rankings with a total of 103.998 points.

They also have four of the seven teams that qualified for Europe last season still participating, which is the highest of any of the big five leagues.

Italy’s Serie A has also moved narrowly ahead of the Bundesliga into third this season, with France and Ligue 1 trailing well behind in fifth with a coefficient ranking of just 55.415. There is only one of six French teams left in European competition at the quarter-final stage this season, with PSG having being eliminated by Real Madrid in the first knockout round.

Verdict: While English teams from the EPL have enjoyed a slight improvement in Europe over the course of the last year, Spain and La Liga continue to dominate continental competition. This could well continue in 2018, with three Spanish sides set to compete in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.

Where do the Best Players go?

If you were to review the 30-man shortlist for the 2017 Ballon D’or, you’d see that Liga provided the most candidates with a grand total of 11. Former Barca forward Neymar was also included following his controversial move to PSG, but he’s another who plied his trade in La Liga during the key months of 2017.

The Premier League provided seven candidates, included former Liverpool talisman Philippe Coutinho (who has since joined Barcelona and the ranks of La Liga). Next up was Serie A, which featured five players on the shortlist, while France’s Ligue 1 provided four. Surprisingly, the Bundesliga brought up the rear, with just three nominees including Bayern pair Robert Lewandowski and Matts Hummels.

La Liga also came out ahead when the top 10 was announced, with four players in the top 10 along with the Brazilian Neymar. In fact, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi claimed the top two positions for the ninth time in just 10 years, with Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos (both Real Madrid) claiming fifth and sixth respectively.

This would suggest that La Liga continues to sign the world’s truly elite players, despite the increased spending power of the Premier League. Interestingly, eight of the European clubs with the highest net spend of the last ten years are based in the Premier League, with both Manchester clubs claiming the top two positions (City have spent a staggering £964 million since 2007) and clubs like Sunderland, Stoke City and Aston Villa also featuring in the top 20.

Verdict: While the EPL continues to spend more heavily than its rivals (the Premier League accounted for 51% of all transfer fees paid during the most recent, January transfer window), there’s no doubt that La Liga continues to attract the cream of the world’s best players. Sure, the EPL arguably has greater depth in terms of the quality of available performer, but the departure of stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho over the last few years has certainly impacted on its appeal.

The Last Word

All things considered, it’s clear that the gap between some of Europe’s top five leagues is deceptively slim, with each having improved considerably in different ways over the course of the last decade.

Still, it’s hard to escape the assertion that La Liga and the Premier League remain the top two, particularly in terms of global viewership, coefficient performance and the quality of players available to clubs.

At the moment, however, we’re inclined to believe that La Liga has a slight edge of the EPL, despite the global popularity and the financial resources available to the latter.

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