To the uninitiated, the world of club soccer can be intimidating. Where to start? What to watch? Which league to follow? For every person who tells you to stick to Spain’s La Liga, there is someone insisting that the best soccer is played in Italy’s Serie A.
It’s easy to be lured by the Champions League as it represents the best of the best, but its name is misleading. It’s not really a league at all, and its knockout format can produce some cagey, stifling affairs.
Major League Soccer is an obvious option for American viewers, but its quality falls well below the highest standards. When all options are weighed up, there is a very big case to be made for the English Premier League being the best league in the world. Here are 10 reasons why:
Each of the major European leagues have their selling points, but the speed at which the game is played in England is one of its distinguishing factors. The pace of the average game in the Premier League is such that newcomers from abroad, no matter how much they may have achieved in other leagues, are treated with skepticism until they can prove their ability to play at the tempo required. Once you get used to the speed as a viewer, it is hard to go back to anything else.
An even greater challenge for many foreign players adapting to life in the Premier League is the sheer physicality of the game. The English game is known for its “blood and thunder” mentality, and although the league is now dominated by foreign talent, the brutal physical competition remains a trademark of the league. It is not a place for the feint of heart or the fragile of bone.
One of the most alluring things about the Premier League is that it is full of some of the most exciting talent from around the world. South America, Africa, and Europe are all well represented by some of the best players currently playing the game. Many argue that this comes at the cost of local youth development in England, but there are plenty of young English players holding their own alongside the international talent, and the diversity only elevates the quality of the teams and adds to the entertainment.
English soccer fans are known for their passion. There are people who are virtually married to the teams they support, and there are so many rousing songs that ring out around the grounds and create a dramatic, and sometimes even moving, atmosphere at Premier League games each week, that it’s hard to deny the impact of the match-going public. There may be a history of dark episodes associated with the English game, but make no mistake—the true fans are among the best in the world.
With 5 or 6 six teams regularly in the mix for the title, the Premier League is an impressively open race. As the top four spots offer Champions League qualification, the battle at the top end of the table is usually hard-fought and dramatic all the way to the finish line. La Liga might have the two most star-studded teams on the planet in Barcelona and Real Madrid, but it’s essentially a two-horse race with occasional cameos from the likes of Atletico Madrid. The Premier League, like all major European leagues, is dominated by its wealthiest clubs, but it is a far less predictable competition.
If things are exciting at the top in a thrilling and enjoyable way, things are exciting at the bottom in a terrifying and devastating way. When the curtain falls at the end of the season, the bottom three teams are relegated to the Championship—the division below the Premier League—and condemned to a fate that some consider worse than death. The scramble to stay up and avoid relegation is a fierce one among the league’s struggling teams, and it can produce some of the best drama of the season.
US viewers are spoiled with coverage as far as the Premier League is concerned. All that is needed is a subscription to the NBC Sports Network and every single game is at your fingertips either on your TV or mobile device. It used to be slim pickings for soccer fans in this country, but NBC, since acquiring the rights to the Premier League in 2012, have really stepped things up to another level. They use knowledgeable and experienced commentators in England, and provide decent analysis from pundits in their Stateside studios. No other league, other than MLS, is made as accessible and easy to follow in the States,
One of the best things about the Premier League is that it is almost always happening. It starts in the middle of August and goes all the way to May. There are only two months on the calendar during which no Premier League games are being played. It gets interrupted now and then for international breaks and cup competitions, but otherwise it is an unrelenting, week-in, week-out experience. And, just when you need it the most—when the weather outside is frightful and your relatives are driving you crazy—you get an even bigger flurry of games as the Christmas/New Years season is packed with extra fixtures.
Every great drama needs a great villain or hero. Depending on where your loyalties lie, Jose Mourinho fits the bill. The Premier League has undoubtedly been a more entertaining spectacle since his return to Chelsea as the self-appointed “Special One.” He is a virtuoso of the press conference, he exudes arrogance, whispers about conspiracies, and constantly seeks the spotlight. His team are almost impossible to beat, and he is always the best dressed man in the room. Whether you love him or love to hate him, it is hard to deny the entertainment value he brings.
One of the greatest things about the Premier League is its international reach. You can travel to the far-flung corners of the earth and find people huddled around screens in pubs, bonding over their shared love of teams that represent cities they may have never been to. It is a strange phenomenon, but it is due in no small part to the diverse array of international players playing in the league as well as the global marketing reach of the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool. It is truly a global brand and, as the world gets smaller, it only seems to get bigger.