What a way to start an argument.
Debates have raged over this particular strand of conversation for decades.
And each respective side has their persuasive arguments.
I mean, how do you decide?
As with any attempt to get to the bottom of things, we need to scrutinise the variables – and there’s a lot of them.
All That Glitters is Gold
Probably the argument most used to decide what nation is best is probably the level of success they have had. Who has won the most titles?
And the answer to that lies in Scotland. Glasgow Rangers have lifted their championship trophy a record 55 times. Next up is Linfield in Ireland and third is Penarol in Uruguay.
But most will tell you about these nations’ leagues – they are certainly not perceived to be the strongest leagues in the world.
Most experts will say that the leagues in Europe are thought to be the biggest in the world and the top five would probably be the Premier League in England, La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy, the Bundesliga in Germany and Ligue Un in France. This is due to the level of pulling power from these sides to attract the best that the rest of the world has to offer, as well as fanbase size, money and TV audiences.
How is this backed up?
Size, pure and simple.
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What’s Size Got to do With it?
Size can be measured in a few ways when it comes to soccer clubs. Most will say that the size of fan base is linked to a club’s size – and if that is the case, then we have some clear winners.
If fan bases related to social media followers, then Real Madrid and Barcelona of Spain are clearly ahead. Both have in the region of 250 million followers. The nearest challenger is Manchester United of England with 142 million, with Juventus of Italy, Chelsea and Liverpool in England, Paris Saint Germain in France, Bayern Munich in Germany and Man City and Arsenal of England completing the top ten sides with the most fans on social media.
Because fan bases can’t be linked to mere stadium attendance anymore. Soccer clubs are now global businesses, with overseas pre-season tours cashing in on worldwide fans and giving them the opportunity to glimpse their heroes in the flesh for the first time.
Then we get to continental titles.
Isn’t That The Fairest Way?
Surely the amount of success a club has had when battling it out against the best of a continent is the best way to measure who is the biggest?
Spanish clubs have the most European Cups, with eighteen titles. England is next with fourteen, Italy third with 12, Germany next with eight, the Netherlands with six and Portugal with four.
What about the Copa Libertadores though? The cream of Latin America duking it out for the right to be crowned the best in the land?
And Argentina leads the list with 25 wins and the most successful team in the competition is Independiente of Argentina.
More Money, More Success?
But when it comes to stature of club and competition, the majority of experts and fans now pay a lot of attention to income. The more money a club earns, the more power they have in the transfer market and the bigger talent they can attract to play soccer for them.
And it’s a mind boggling list.
The magazine and money company, Forbes, compiles a detailed list every year, taking into account a myriad of factors to decide what true value a soccer club has. From size and condition of stadium, sponsorship deals, price of current assets (training ground, players) and earning power from ticket sales, merchandise and player sales.
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Money Doesn’t Solve Everything…
And yet again, Spain come out on top – and it’s those likely subjects Real Madrid and Barcelona that come out on top – rated to be worth around 4,750 million Euros each. And while that is a staggering amount of money, the true value of Barcelona may be flawed, with the club currently undergoing severe cost-cutting measures in a bid to shrink their sizable debt, rumoured to be in the hundreds of millions. This extreme measure of saving money also led them to sell their prized asset and arguably greatest soccer player in the world, Lionel Messi.
So while the club from Catalonia may sit top of the money list, underneath the calm exterior looks to be a club in trouble.
The rest of the top ten is dominated by England and the clubs from the Premier League. Manchester United and Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and even Tottenham hotspur are in the top ten, with Bayern Munich of Germany and Paris Saint Germain of France breaking into this illustrious list.
And it’s for good reason why the Premier League has the strongest grip on cash in soccer.
Turn The TV on
It’s because the Premier League currently has the most lucrative TV deal in the world. The league is well known to be the most widely consumed across the world, with a potential audience of 4.7 billion.
That is a big audience and a huge market, which meant TV companies shelled out a combined 4.55 billion GBP for the ability to show some EPL soccer games on their channels, including online.
But does that mean the Premier League is the biggest in the world?
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A Compelling Argument
It is a strong case, but the other factors which we looked over above point to La Liga in Spain being the strongest in the world – although there is another factor which could decide this fight for soccer supremacy.
And it can be found in the level of competitivity in a league.
Let’s face it, we tune into soccer to see a good game, watch some superstars produce magic on the soccer pitch and above all, some goals.
We tune in for the drama, for teams competing for glory. If the outcome of a game is pretty much settled before a soccer ball has been kicked in anger, we won’t enjoy it as much.
And this is probably where La Liga falls a little short.
Which League Has the Most Winners?
Looking back on the top five European leagues, La Liga is among the least diverse when it comes to title-winning teams in the last twenty years. Barcelona and Real Madrid have won the majority, with Atletico Madrid recently forcing their way into proceedings and Valencia having won their last title in 2003/04.
Germany is even worse when it comes to competitive action. The juggernaut that is Bayern Munich having a stranglehold in Germany, Borussia Dortmund picking up three titles (the last in 2012), with VFL Wolfsburg, VFB Stuttgart and Werder Bremen grabbing a rare title each. But Bayern have won the last nine in a row and look to be close to grabbing their tenth. The German league is pretty easy to guess who is going to win…
The Premier League? It certainly brings the most drama, with on average the most amount of goals per season and with the worst match officiating in Europe (arguably), it means the thrills and spills come thick and fast in England. The clincher though? Every single team is capable of beating everyone else, with regular upsets happening nearly every week.
Although rich ownership has put a dampener on the ability of other teams to win the title itself – Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool have dominated the last fifteen years, aside from the fairytale of minnow Leicester City winning in 2016 – the Premier League is still the most watched and most enjoyable for soccer fans.
What of the rest?
Italy has four winners of the Scudetto (the name of the Italian soccer championship) in the last two decades, but Inter Milan and Juventus clearly lead the way when it comes to success.
France has the most amount of different winners of Le Championnat (the name of the French soccer title) – with eight different teams tasting success. But the present day Ligue Un is amongst the easiest to predict, with oil-backed Paris Saint Germain winning seven of the last nine titles.
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So – What League is Best?
While Latin America deserves a mention in terms of talent and drama, it cannot hold a candle to the sheer size of the top five leagues in Europe. Dedicated, global fanbases, with money pushing these soccer clubs to even greater heights – Europe will continue to be able to cherry pick the best of the world’s soccer players for years to come.
And although Real Madrid and Barcelona have had the most success and the biggest social media following, it looks as though the Premier League and its leading teams – Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal – will get the chance to catch up if their silverware trajectories continue.
That should clear things up!