The Champions League clash between Real Madrid and Manchester United once again raised the perennial question as to which league is the best in the world.
Clearly Manchester United is consistently the best the Premier League has to offer, and while Real Madrid is overshadowed by Barcelona in La Liga at the moment, the Merengues’ history at least earns them a seat at Spain’s top table.
But for all the hype that surrounded the latest Champions League clash, one match and two clubs can’t really tell us anything much about the comparative strengths of the two leagues. Nor do the subjective rants of die-hard fans seriously assess the relative merits of leagues like the Bundesliga, Serie A, or Ligue 1. It’s all hypothesis heavily influenced by personal bias.
What’s really needed to resolve the debate is a large dose of reality. And that’s why I’d love to see the soccer authorities create a World League Cup.
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Imagine, a league representative side free of any nationality or financial restrictions. Ronaldo lining-up alongside Messi for La Liga; Suarez and RVP as the Prem’s front men; Pirlo and Hamsik playing providers for Serie A – you get the idea.
Of course, critics would say a World League Cup would inevitably see the wealthiest leagues come out on top. But, for me that’s not necessarily the case. The Bundesliga, for example, has nowhere near the financial muscle of England’s Premier League, but would the EPL always be a lock to beat the best that, say, Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke have to offer?
And, would it not be fascinating to see how some of the world’s top feeder leagues fair against the presumed big boys? The best young guns from leagues like the Dutch Eredivisie and Brazil’s Brasileiro are the future gazillion dollar targets of the elite, so surely they might be good for an upset or two?
For smaller or less established leagues like MLS, playing in a World League Cup would be a financial bonanza and would surely raise its profile. Taking part might also help developing leagues assess their progress. For all the hype surrounding the MLS All-Star game, seeing the best America has to offer taking on a European club side in “friendly” mode tells us precisely nothing about where the MLS stands regarding its aim of becoming one of the world’s top leagues by 2022. Facing the best the Turkish Super League or Russian Premier League has to offer just might.
Yes, we have the various regional Champions Leagues. But, I’d argue that measures the strength and depth of a handful of clubs. It doesn’t necessarily represent the strength of the league as a whole. You just don’t always see the best against the best. For example, Tottenham’s Gareth Bale would walk into any team in the world right now but he’s not in the Champions League because Spurs didn’t qualify.
Similarly, international soccer is equally, if not more unrepresentative of a nation’s prowess on the field because selection is obviously based on origin not on where a player learns or plies his trade. I mean, Lionel Messi is an Argentine, but can anyone say that Spain didn’t play a larger role in his soccer development?
So here’s my suggestion:
- The World League Cup finals to be staged every two years (probably in odd years to avoid crowding the World Cup).
- Locate it in some sunny climate. Qatar, Dubai or another fan-friendly Middle Eastern destination might be nice, while keeping with FIFA’s goal of spreading the word.
- After first encouraging England’s Premier League to join other leagues by taking a mid-season break, stage the Finals in January in place of the FIFA World Club Cup (Does that competition have any credibility anyway?)
- The lineup for the finals would consist of eight league teams drawn into two groups of four, perhaps with seedings.
- Each group plays a round-robin, with the top finisher in each group going head-to-head in a grand final. That’s a maximum of four games for each squad in the space of two weeks or so, which is routine for the top players.
- Entry to the finals would be based on some globalized version of the UEFA coefficient system, with the stipulation that UEFA provide three finalists, CONMEBOL two, with the remaining three places decided by pre-tournament playoffs featuring representative teams from leagues in the CONCACAF, CAF, AFC, and OFC regions.
- The idea would be for each league to field its strongest team. Though, to spread the wealth and stop it being just another version of the Champions League, no XI should feature more than four players from any one club. And only players who’d completed one full transfer cycle in their current league would be eligible to represent it.
I think this “Dream Team” premise would be a major attraction to fans, TV and sponsors alike. Granted, the calendar is crowded, but as I indicated, there may be an ideal opening in the northern hemisphere winter break. Whenever you stage it, I think the concept is representative of what modern league soccer is today – cosmopolitan. And of course, never again will someone have to ask -- Which is the best league in the world?
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