THE Premier League is the best league in the world, or so they say.
If you had a pound for every time you had heard that sentiment you truly would be as rich as some of the top performers who play in it. Perhaps the Premier League is the best. After all, it pays the top wages, attracts the most foreigners and regularly sees its top clubs reach the business end of the Champions League.
But if the Premier League is the best then how come out of the 44 players who started the World Cup semi-finals this week, only three ply their trade in it?
That’s right, just three, from a league which supposedly is so overrun by foreigners that England manager Fabio Capello has used it as one possible excuse for England’s dreadful showing at South Africa 2010.
All three come from the Netherlands. Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt, Arsenal’s Robin van Persie and Everton defender Johnny Heitinga.
There were plenty of others on show who had played in the Premier League, but had left it and enjoyed greater success elsewhere.
Diego Forlan, one of the stars of this World Cup, whose time as a striker at Manchester United wasn’t very striking.
Gerard Pique, arguably the best defender at South Africa 2010 and a cultured distributor of the ball at Barcelona, who looked out of his depth in his short spell at Old Trafford.
And what about Arjen Robben? So much natural talent and a game-breaking player who has demonstrated at Bayern Munich how potent he can be with superb displays in the Champions League. So why did Chelsea let him go?
True, in the interests of balance Xabi Alonso was a success at Liverpool, so much so that when he left the Anfield house of cards came toppling down.
Yet the fact remains that only three players from the world’s so-called top league took the stage at the business end of the sport’s greatest competition.
Could it be that the Premier League is the toughest league? The hardest physically. The most demanding and unforgiving, especially when it comes to players with flair? Could it be that the Premier League and its supporters demand high tempo and helter-skelter action and would simply not put up week in and week out with the studied precision of Spain, however pretty the patterns and cerebral the approach play?
In the World Cup semi-final, against a dynamic German team which had been lauded as the future of the game, Spain proved that football is about experience as well as energy, about blend and balance. Above all, about intelligence and the simple truth that keeping the football is not an optional extra.
For the record, the semi-final starting lists contained 15 players from German clubs, 13 from Spanish, five from Italian, three from Dutch, two from Portugal and one each from Chile, France and Uruguay as well as the three from England.
Granted, not a forensic study. Yet one which suggests that while the Premier League undoubtedly is the richest league, the most powerful, most exciting and the one with most foreign stars, when it comes to quality the numbers just don’t seem to add up.
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