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THE FINISH LINE

EPL VS La Liga: Which is better?

Barcelona president reignites debate about La Liga being the superior league, but is it fair to compare?
Saturday, November 5, 2016 - 05:50

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Barcelona's Messi jumping for the ball during the Uefa Champions League group C match between Manchester City and Barcelona on Tuesday.

THE English Premier League (EPL) is the oldest and by far the most-watched football league in the world, with its revenues from TV rights raking in billions of dollars every season.

Visit most watering holes in town on a typical Saturday evening and chances are there will be an EPL match shown on the big screens, watched by fans decked in the jerseys of their favourite team.

Earlier this week, a long-standing debate in football was revived when Josep Bartomeu, the president of Spanish giants Barcelona, declared that La Liga boasts the best players in the world and that's why Spain's top division is superior to its English rival.

A bold claim, indeed, and one can even say he is a little biased simply because he is, firstly, from Spain and secondly, the chief of a dominant Spanish team that has won dozens of trophies at home and abroad since its founding 116 years ago.

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But Bartomeu does raise some valid points to justify his argument. He says that while the EPL has some of the best managers in the sport - the likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte spring to mind - it is La Liga that can proudly show off the world's top players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. "When we talk about La Liga, I am very happy because the best players in the world play here - Messi, number one. Neymar, number two. Ronaldo, number three," said Bartomeu in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

"The stars (in La Liga) are the players. Maybe, right now in the Premier League, the stars are the coaches, not the players. So there are different ways of going to the world and showing our sport," the 53-year-old entrepreneur added.

Among the other world-class players plying their trade in Spain are Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema (both Real Madrid) and Antoine Grizemann (Atletico Madrid). No matter which perspective you take, it's difficult to categorically state whether one league is better than another. There would be no end to the arguments from both sides of the divide.

Supporters of La Liga will point to the fact that Messi and Ronaldo - two of the most recognisable footballers on the planet today - have won the last eight Fifa Player of the Year awards between them.

Messi, the fleet-footed 29-year-old from Argentina, has won the sport's biggest honour five times, while Portugal's Ronaldo of Real Madrid fame has been recognised thrice. As for Messi's Barcelona teammate Neymar, many pundits say it's only a matter of time before the talented Brazilian striker reaches the summit.

The last time the EPL had a representative for Fifa's top award was when English striker Michael Owen, then a Liverpool player, clinched the honour back in 2001. The Premier League has more than its fair share of household names too - Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), David De Gea (Manchester United) and Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), to name a few.

It's not just the star power that we should look at. The financial muscle of both leagues is also a useful barometer, as clubs with the deepest pockets will naturally attract the best players and managers.

According to Deloitte's latest Football Money League, Real Madrid is top of the table, followed closely by Barcelona. Manchester United - the highest-ranked EPL club, is in third place, but Deloitte has already predicted that the Red Devils will overtake the two Spanish clubs above them next year.

If we use the Uefa Champions League competition as a yardstick, then it is La Liga that has produced the most number of winners for European football's most prestigious trophy.

Only two Spanish teams, however, have won the Champions League, with Real Madrid leading the way with 11 titles and Barcelona with five. Five English teams have combined to win the Champions League 12 times in total. Liverpool, with five titles, is the most successful English club in the competition, followed by Manchester United (three), Nottingham Forest (two), and Aston Villa and Chelsea (one each).

One reason why more viewers tune in to the EPL is because there is close competition among all its 20 teams, and there are generally no easy games.

The opening round of this season's EPL saw newly promoted Hull City dethroning the defending champions Leicester, while underdogs Watford stunned Manchester United in September. Over in La Liga, the top three teams usually defeat the lower-ranked sides, sometimes by huge margins too. There are some instances where the unfancied teams beat the top dogs, but those results are few and far between.

In recent seasons, the nine-month race to the championship and the battle to avoid relegation are usually very entertaining in the EPL and often goes right to the final weekend. In any given season, it's almost a given that the top three teams at the end will be Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, although not necessarily in that order.

The situation is quite different in England. It's safe to say that no one would have ever imagined that tiny Leicester, a 5,000-to-1 outsider at the start of the 2015/16 campaign, would win the EPL with two games to spare, but that's exactly what the Foxes accomplished six months ago. These arguments aside, each league will always have its own merits and minuses. Frankly, I doubt this debate about which is the superior league will ever end.

Speaking as a football fan, it doesn't really matter, does it? I enjoy watching matches from both leagues and so long as the teams continue to produce riveting entertainment on the pitch, that's good enough for me.

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