Is the allure of the Premier League in decline?

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premier_league_logoSince its birth in 1992, the English Premier League has prided itself on being one of, if not the, greatest leagues on the planet. World class talents have travelled to these shores in abundance:  Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gianfranco Zola are just three high profile stars who have arrived in England to experience playing on one of the greatest stages football has to offer – while the passion of the fans who love and follow the game create an envious atmosphere within outstanding stadia across the country.

Astronomical commercial deals (the broadcasting rights for 2013-2016 recently sold for around £5.5 billion), along with free spending billionaires attracted by the beauty of the game, makes the Premier League one of the most expensive and valuable businesses in the world, while regular, successful participation within European competitions gains the Premier League notoriety as one of the best there is.

Yet is the attraction of the Premier League beginning to falter? While the performances of the England national team have certainly questioned the standard of football within the country, several recent events and transfers within club football have led this question to be whispered loud enough to cause concern.

While usually encompassing enough charm, money and competition, it would appear that some of the world’s top stars are now snubbing the Premier League in favour of moves elsewhere. Falcao, Cavani, Neymar, Thiago Alcantara and Götze are all high profile players who have evaded the grips of the Premier League this summer despite much speculation (admittedly some more so than others).

Many will argue that the main issue is certainly the money and, more specifically, greedy agents and players. While England can boast mega-rich patriarchs such as Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, other countries too are beginning to be bankrolled similarly, providing competition as to who can provide the best (and nowadays ludicrous) financial package.

Yet the higher tax rates in England result in clubs needing to offer higher salaries to players, something that is no more evident in Falcao’s decision to join Monaco. While I don’t want to insinuate the Colombian went solely for the money (…), residents of this beautiful principality enjoy tax free salaries, meaning English clubs would need to pay millions more simply to match the wages on offer. Of course Monaco is an extreme example, but with football developing into such a money orientated sport, such margins of income can surely make a large difference.

Yet we do still see Premier League clubs splashing the cash and signing players on lucrative contracts, while not every player will choose their club purely on the size of the wage packet, so what else may be a factor in the league’s rejection by world stars? While it may seem silly, and it’s hardly something that is new to players’ considerations, the climate may play a factor.

Poor Stoke are often used in this analogy, but which player wants to be roughing it up in the freezing rain in Manchester or Liverpool, when they could be enjoying the warmth of the Mediterranean? It may not be the biggest factor, yet it nonetheless cannot be dismissed that, although London may still be considered an attractive home, players may consider their families being more settled in a preferred climate. Particularly when combined with other decisions (i.e. the money) it may tip the scales in favour of plying their trade elsewhere.

But what is perhaps the biggest factor – one which is worrying for every Premier League fan – is simply that other clubs and leagues are now considered better. With Italy’s Serie A somewhat (and I say this very precariously) in demise over the last decade, the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga have vied for the title of the greatest league.

Yet with the tiki-taka that has transformed Barcelona into undisputedly the greatest team of a generation (and has been the core of a Spanish national side that has undisputedly become one of the best teams in history), along with the resurgent ‘Galacticos’ at Real Madrid, the two best players in the world of Messi and Ronaldo have seen them seemingly edge ahead.

Anyone who claims the league to be a two trick pony is naïve: Atlético Madrid and Sevilla have both won the Europa League (or UEFA cup before it’s rebranding) multiple times in the last decade, Bilbao and Espanyol have both been beaten finalists, Valencia have been regulars in the Champions League, and Malaga were just minutes away from the Champions League semi finals last season, a stage Villarreal reached in 2006. Hardly then, do just two teams in La Liga possess enough quality to perform on the European stage.

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