Pitchside

Top-flight’s ‘Best League in the World’ label a bad joke

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The temerity that is international football has done the decent thing and skulked off into the night like the sorry imitation it is. The self-anointed greatest league in the world is back. Back, I say.

Take a minute, though, what is it that makes the Premier League the greatest?

The honest harsh truth of the matter is not much. The default response to any criticism of the league is that it remains the most exciting in the world and, as such, the best. Case closed.

Not quite. In fact, gauging greatness by an intangible such as excitement only serves as a measure of how far the once exalted Premier League has fallen – and, in any case, the notion is a fallacy. Yes, games like the 221stMerseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton served up a thrilling afternoon of football but this is now the exception rather than the rule.

Quality, as in all walks of life, best gauges "greatness".

Unfortunately, it is patently clear that the standard of footballer now plying his trade in England is not of the same quality as it once was.

Take, for example, when Manchester United won the Premier League and Champions League in 2008 with their line led by Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez before adding Dimitar Berbatov in reserve in the close season and compare it to now. While Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney fired United to a 20th league title last year, Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez are just not of the same calibre of Tevez and Berbatov.

The debate that surrounds Michael Carrick’s perceived merits or lack thereof encapsulates what is undoubtedly a falling in standards across the league. While the England man is underrated, there would be little hope of him getting into any of Manchester United’s great central midfield pairings.

This problem of quality permeates throughout the whole league – look at Arsenal, their line is led by the highly willing yet ultimately limited Olivier Giroud with Nicklas Bendtner as his understudy. This is no slight on either player but would they fall into the category of, say, Dennis Bergkamp or Thierry Henry, whose understudy was the aforementioned Van Persie.

Granted, Mesut Ozil is an extraordinary player. But the giddiness that met his signing only further underlines the league’s fall from grace – and the talent drain over the last few years has now reached a critical point.

Dizzy with hubris, the Premier League once looked down on its continental cousins, but now stares in envy as the large proportion of the world’s best players pursue honours in Spain, Germany or France.

The league is still awash with money but was not the destination of choice over the summer as Neymar, Thiago Alcantara, Radamel Falcao, and Edinson Cavani all chose not to move to England in favour of other European leagues.

This reduction in quality has made this year’s title race a more open affair and, to be fair, more interesting. However, the novelty of interest will soon wear off as the quality of football begins to wane with the almost-prohibitive prices already the cause of considerable discontent in the stands.

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore would never admit it but the Premier League is on a downward trajectory and if its ills aren't soon addressed then it could become a permanent fall.

Marcus Foley - On Twitter: @MMJFoley

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