If you want a snapshot indicator of the relative standing of the Premier League and La Liga, take a look at this summer’s main playing imports. Between them Barcelona and Real Madrid have signed the two biggest stars of the World Cup, plus the bloke who would have been a star had he managed to control the urge to indulge in a mid-match Italian. James Rodriguez joins Toni Kroos and Luis Suarez as the new boys in the Spanish league, a collection of talent as elevated as there is in the game. What a trio those three represent, as stellar a threesome as could currently be assembled. And all of them heading to Spain.
Compare that to the marquee signings made by Premier League clubs so far this summer from overseas. Alexis Sanchez, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Ander Herrera and Fernando: good players all, but none of them in the top tier. Indeed, players like Sanchez and Fabregas have been let go by the Spanish giants, keen to free up some cash from their pay roll to pay for the new boys. Aston Villa’s signing of Philippe Senderos notwithstanding, the English game appears not to be the place where the very best wish to head.
The Spanish game may have taken a huge psychological battering in Brazil, the demise of the signature playing style of its national side provoking widespread schadenfreude. But never mind the supremacy of the German way, forget the Dutch and the Argentinians pioneering the antidote to tiki taka, when it comes to club football, Spanish practices remain the most luminous.
Kroos, for instance, had spent much of last season flirting with Manchester United. But the moment it became clear that Real Madrid fancied him, there was no contest. He was on the first plane south. And who could blame him. The chance to play and train on a daily basis with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Sami Khedira, James Rodriguez and Luca Modric, or a future with Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Nani? Yes, you imagine there could have been an extensive period of soul searching to make that choice. It must have taken him all of seconds to decide.
It is an irony of the English league game that, even as we stunt the development of our own youth by preferring to shop abroad rather than give them a chance, we are ostensibly not attracting the brightest and best available. Ours is a football system than no longer brings in the very best, if it ever did. Neither does the Bundesliga, but at least there they develop their own talent instead of stalling it in preference to the second rate: which eventually they sell on, replacing it with new products from the conveyor belt.
Given the way that the world’s best talent is gradually congregating in Spain (or rather in the two leading Spanish clubs) it is hard to see beyond them for success in the Champions League. No matter how tempting the financial returns offered by Paris St Germain, Monaco, Chelsea and Manchester City might be, the agglomeration of excellence being stockpiled by the Spanish pair makes them the point of ambition for any talented player. Neymar, Messi and Suarez against Kroos, Ronaldo and Rodriguez: it is almost absurd in the mouth-watering nature of its possibility. Joining the two clubs has now become the ultimate recognition for a player that he has arrived at the very pinnacle of his profession. As Gareth Bale demonstrated last summer, every young hopeful in the game now regards being signed for one of the pair as the most significant recognition of their skills available.
So for City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, the reality is they will be going into the main club trophy this autumn heavily out-gunned. As will Bayern, Dortmund, Juve and PSG. It looks very hard to see beyond the entire competition coming down to yet another staging of the Classico. And every week, the commercial juggernaut will roll on, snowballing up in scale, getting bigger and bolder on the back of the sales proposition that we are able to watch a weekly restaging of the World Cup.
For years the Premier League has vigorously insisted it is the best in the world. It is still a comment you hear routinely spouted by commentators and pundits alike. A swift look ahead of the new season at the playing rosters of our leading clubs, compared to the Spanish monoliths and such a view begins to look horribly out-dated. That is if it were ever true.
- Premier League
- James Rodriguez
- Real Madrid
- Toni Kroos
- Luis Suarez
- La Liga
- Gareth Bale