When does the expression “the greatest league in the world” not mean the greatest league in the world? Well, when it comes to the Premier League the bluster and hype doesn’t always match the product on the pitch. The self-styled greatest spectacle in soccer doesn’t always live up to its billing.
Of course, measuring the greatest league in the world is entirely subjective. Does “greatest” mean the most entertaining? Or the highest quality? Or the greatest in terms of history and heritage? It’s impossible to truly dispute the tagline because the definition of its claim is so unspecific.
If the claim is that the Premier League is of the highest quality, however, there has been plenty evidence to the contrary in recent seasons. Primarily, the performance of English clubs in the UEFA Champions League of late suggests they have fallen way behind their continental counterparts. Improvement is needed.
And while Leicester City undeniably thrilled and exhilarated last season as they ran all the way to the title, their triumph was just another indicator that the Premier League is currently not at its strongest. Sure, the Foxes deserved their glory, but their team will hardly go down as vintage league champions.
However, this summer could prove a watershed in the Premier League’s history. Almost in synchronization, English soccer’s top clubs are at the point of revolution. Squads are being overhauled, transfer records are being broken and the country’s topflight has once again attracted the brightest and best from around the soccer-sphere.
The catalyst for all this has been the hiring of European soccer’s managerial vanguard. With Pep Guardiola finally at Manchester City after years of speculation, Antonio Conte now in charge of Chelsea and Jurgen Klopp heading into his first full season as manager of Liverpool, the Premier League is now something of a coaching think tank.
This should prompt the modernization of the English game, which has become somewhat outdated over the past decade or so. Perhaps it’s a consequence of the Premier League’s obscene wealth, but coaching has come to be neglected by those who should know better in the country. Maybe clubs believed that by simply splurging millions in the transfer market they could keep their place at the top of the sport. Whatever the reason, there has been a realization across the board that something needs to change.
With good coaching, the rest follows. Manchester United is certainly discovering that this summer. The Old Trafford club has struggled in the transfer market over the past few years, toiling to attract the best talent despite their unparalleled riches. But with the appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager they have made four signings to make the rest of the Premier League sit up and take note.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will finally test himself in England under Mourinho, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan—arguably the best player in the Bundesliga last season—also joining United ahead of the new season. The world record signing of Paul Pogba, though, is the boldest statement of intent made by Manchester United this summer. Would these players have signed, however, had Louis Van Gaal remained at the club? It’s doubtful.
The European club game has been dominated by La Liga over the past decade, with a fleeing stint of supremacy for the Bundesliga, but the plates beneath European soccer might be about to shift. Premier League clubs are now taking a more holistic approach, acknowledging the mistakes they have made in the past. Whether they stick to that ethos could make or break them, but as things stand English soccer is at something of an existential juncture.
Good coaches forge good teams and the Premier League is in need of some good teams, despite it’s standing as the most lucrative soccer division on the planet. The UEFA Champions League will be the gauge of that once again, with the most expected of Manchester City, who will now be expected to win the whole thing with Guardiola at the helm.
But even domestically, this season’s Premier League should finally see the marketing razzmatazz and fanfare match the product on the pitch. The “greatest league in the world” tag will be proclaimed without so much as a bashful glance, because it will be true.
Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast (featuring Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop, John Molinaro and James Sharman) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues.