Money, influence, talent, results... there is more than one way to assess which football league is the best in Europe.
The ever-changing nature of the game means that the debate is always ongoing. In the UK, the Premier League is often referred as “the best league in the world”, but from which perspective is that true?
It is indisputably the league which involves the most money. TV rights for the 2016-2019 period skyrocketing to £5.136bn. This doesn’t even include the additional £3bn overseas deals which are, on their own, worth more than all TV rights from Spain, Italy, Germany and France combined.
However in football, there is only one thing that matters in the end: who wins the game. And from that angle, I am not sure the Premier League is the best league anymore.
There is no better competition than Champion’s League to assess which is the most successful league. The following chart displays the best Champion’s League position reached by the English, Spanish, German and Italian leagues since season 2004/05 up to last season:
Figure 1: Best Champions League position per country, 2005-15
Premier League used to rule
What is important to note here is that English teams reached the final for five consecutive years before season 2008/09 and only twice in the six following seasons. In the meantime, Spanish teams have been in the final five times over the same period, winning the competition three times.
It is not only the result of just one team; the overall performance of top Spanish clubs has been astonishing over the last five seasons. Spanish teams have between them achieved three wins, four teams reaching finals and 10 semi-finals. Combined, Germany and England have two wins (one each), five teams in finals (two Premier League teams) and nine in semi-finals (only three English ones) during the same period of time.
So while Premier League teams were ruling Europe a few years ago, La Liga has taken over since then.
But when did that shift occur?
To measure this, the ‘combined achievement score’ per season has been calculated by combining the achievements of all the teams from each league in the Champions League. This unique value assigned to each league is the sum of the points allocated to all its teams. Those points have been allocated to teams based on what stage they reached in the competition, as follows:
For instance, Germany won 14 points for season 2012/13 as Bayern Munich won the competition (8 points), and Borussia Dortmund reached the final (6 points).
The following graph highlights this recent shift of dominance:
Figure 2: ‘Combined achieverment score’ of national leagues in the Champions League 2005-15
The dominance of the Premier League is clear until season 2008/09. Since then however, Spanish teams have always performed the same or better than English teams.
Apart from 2012/13 when Germany scored slightly better than Spain, La Liga has been the best league since 2010/11, the gap with other leagues being particularly significant over the past two years.
So while the Premier League was the best performing league in Europe from 2006/07 until 2008/09, it has since lost this title, La Liga taking over since 2010/11. Fittingly, Barcelona beat Manchester United in final that year!