The argument about which league is the best is unbelievably boring. It makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a small, blunt instrument. In England, Sky TV continually pushes the line that the Premier League is “the greatest league in the world ever”, but of course they say that. It’s a sales pitch designed to generate excitement and maximise viewers for their biggest product.
Ultimately it depends on where your preferences lie. La Liga displays the greatest level of technique and is currently home to the two best players in world football. Serie A is still ahead with regards to its detail for tactics, as evidenced by the varied formations and styles on display. The Premier League is played at a quicker tempo, generally leading to more incident and goal mouth activity (unless you were a Villa fan during Alex Mcleish’s reign of terror). Of course these are stereotypes and the truth is not as defined, but there are certainly distinguishing aspects of the major leagues. It is a ‘different horses for different courses’ argument. Each person will prefer the league that appeals to them most, unless you’re like me and watch everything.
Outside of the top three European leagues, France’s Ligue 1 has enjoyed something of a renaissance. After a period of dominance by Lyon between 2002 and 2008, in which they won seven consecutive titles, it has been highly competitive. Since Lyon’s last league title, there have been four different winners in four years. To put that into perspective, that has not happened in any of the major European leagues in the 21st century.
Not only is the competitiveness unparalleled across Europe’s big leagues, some of the stories have been fascinating. In 2011, Lille were crowned champions for the first time since 1954. Having returned to Ligue 1 in 2000, their previous highest finish was fourth, making their title victory very unexpected. Playing an exciting brand of attacking football, inspired by recent Chelsea signing Eden Hazard, they topped the league scoring charts and the league table.
The tale of Montpellier, the current French champions, is even more remarkable and one that warmed the hearts of football fans everywhere. They rose from relative obscurity to secure their first top flight league title in their history on a shoestring budget. Club record signing Olivier Giroud (now of Arsenal) cost only £1.7m and earned just a reported £15,000 per week, yet finished as the league’s top scorer. Vitorino Hilton, acquired as a free agent last summer, was named in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year. The season even finished dramatically, with Montpellier clinching the title amid scenes of madness in the stands, consigning Paris Saint-Germain to second place.
That they managed to hold off PSG is even more astonishing when you consider that PSG spent €106m last season. Incidentally, Montpellier’s net spend was exactly nil. However, unfortunately, just as in most other walks of life – money eventually talks. PSG’s spending appears as though it will continue, with the acquisition of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva set to be completed for a fee in the region of £50m.
Should the transfers be completed, those two players are likely to be two of the best in Ligue 1 next season – if not the best. The addition of them to a squad that narrowly finished second, and could quite possibly be followed by more arrivals, will make PSG undoubtedly the strongest side in the division.
After four years of intriguing competition, the likelihood is that PSG will comfortably win the title. Just as we are starting to see across other European leagues, the competitiveness of the division is going to be distorted by money. The difference compared to the Premier League for example is that the French league is especially susceptible to this type of distortion, since there are no other big spending clubs.
The most likely outcome therefore, is that not only will PSG win the league next season; they will go on to dominate for years to come. It is probable this will continue until another wealthy investor purchases another French club and spends heavily to catch up. It is a shame for French football that the highly fascinating and competitive league which has started to develop will be completely ruined.