Barclays Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, the Bundesliga and Serie A in Italy. When it comes to national leagues, the big four dominate in terms of attendance figures, TV revenue, column inches and champions league success. In terms of people through the turnstiles, the Premier League comes out on top with 13,746,753 tickets in the 2014-15 season, followed by the Bundesliga (13,321,531), La Liga (10,161,726) and Serie A (8,440,903). The Championship in England actually has higher figures than the Italian top league: last season, a total of 9,771,471 fans watched their team trying to make it to the top table of English and global football, all according to ESPN FC statistics.
Still, there is a world outside of these leagues. Though there is no doubt that some of the world’s best players ply their trade for clubs in them, there are definitely real and compelling arguments for focusing your attention on other, often ignored leagues.
What’s in it for me?
We should never need an excuse to learn more about the beautiful game, but why should we divert our attention away from those leagues we know and love?
This year’s EPL aside, it is often the case that in August you can make a pretty good guess who will be sat pretty in the top slots of the league next May. The bigger the leagues, the more money there is, and the more that money tends to get concentrated in a small handful of clubs. As a rule of thumb, that cycle is harder and harder to break. In most other leagues that is not so much the case. The difference in spending power between the top and bottom clubs is often not as pronounced, leading to a less static state of affairs – more unpredictability and thus more excitement.
Increasing your knowledge of a league or leagues is fantastic when it comes to niche knowledge regarding players or clubs. You will be able to astound friends, colleagues and quizmaster alike with your encyclopaedic knowledge of the Belgian 3rd division. Plus, every team from the big four leagues is looking to bring in the stars from the other leagues across Europe and beyond. So when everyone else is scratching their heads at Chelsea’s new “next big thing”, you’ll be able to speak with authority about his attacking prowess but unwillingness to track back.
Also, Why limit yourself to betting on the couple of leagues you currently follow? By spreading your net across multiple countries and leagues you will be giving yourself a hell of a better chance of being able to fill your weekly accumulator with games you are actually confident about.
A total of 61 different leagues provided players for the 2014 world cup in Brazil. Of the 736 players representing their countries, 321 (43%) of those came from the top 4 leagues. That leaves 415 players who earn their corn in the world’s other leagues. What may come as a surprise is that if we only choose those players still around in the semi-finals the stats aren’t that much different, with 41 (45%) of the 92 remaining players coming from so-called lesser leagues. With the Euro ‘16 just around the corner, it is a good time to expand your knowledge to some of the other players who will be looking to shine at the second most prestigious tournament on the planet. Once again, it will only help you when it comes to placing that accumulator.
So with all those leagues out there, which ones are worth checking out?
Brasileirão – Brazil
It is hard to ignore Brazil when it comes to football conversations. The Brasileirão, or officially the Brasileirão Chevrolet, due to the American car giant’s recent sponsorship deal, is not as well-known as you would think based on the impact their international team and players have had on the game. However, the Brazilian domestic league is where all the great Brazilian players of the past have started, and clubs such as Corinthians, Flamengo and Vasco da Gama have as rich a tradition as their more familiar European counterparts. Half the fun of watching the Brasileirão is spotting the next players likely to make the move to Europe, while you are also likely to come across some of the most audacious tricks and goals you will ever witness.
Ligue 1 – France
The French top league has always been the “nearly” man of the Old Continent. Clubs like Monaco and Marseille have had success on the European stage, but they haven’t been able to maintain it for sustained periods of time. The league was more famed for its exports than for those stars joining from abroad. The rise of Paris Saint Germain – or perhaps the rise of PSG’s budget – has changed that. One of the, if not the richest clubs in the world (depending on what criteria you use), PSG are now recognized as one of the very real contenders for Champions League glory. They also have one of the world’s most genuine superstars in Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Even before we came to know Thierry Henry, there was a tradition of exciting French players lighting up the Premier league. Several more players have been touted as making a move across the channel in the summer. Top of many people’s list is Brazilian centre back Marquinhos, currently winning plaudits – and headers and challengers – at PSG.
Primeira Liga – Portugal
José Mourinho and Ronaldo are the two most famous things about Portugal at the moment, never mind Portuguese football. But the Primeira Liga has a fine tradition, and 5th in the UEFA coefficient rankings. Sporting, Benfica and Porto are three of the greats of European football of the last 60 years. Benfica achieved back-to-back European Cup success in 1960 – ‘61 and ’61 – ’62. Sporting won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1963 – ’64 while Porto have 2 UEFA/Europa League titles and 2 European Cup/Champions League trophies, most famously in 2003-4 under Mourinho.
Eredivisie – Holland
Naming the Dutch league is a decent quiz question in itself. Given the history of Dutch football and its celebrated clubs and players, it is surprising that the Eredivisie (literally “the honour league”) formed in 1956, is not more famous. Though the cream of the Dutch talent do tend to leave for more profitable pastures, it is still a very competitive league and Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord can hold their heads up in any company when it comes to tradition and honours won. Since 1970, when Dutch football really burst onto the club and international scene forcing people to sit up and take note of this wonderful new style of playing the game, clubs from the Eredivisie have won no less than 16 European competitions. Other European leagues boast many players and managers who originally plied their trade in the Netherlands, but there is still a lot of talent in this league. At the semi-final stage of the 2014 world cup, no less than 10 players came from the Dutch league.
Whatever your reason for doing it, there isn’t a downside to be found in expanding your football knowledge. With today’s multiple sport channels plus internet streaming, it is possible to watch live games from everywhere in the world, and even partake in some in-play betting. By choosing leagues from different countries, and different time zones, it also means that you are one step closer to every fan’s dream – round the clock live football. I rest my case.