True to form, Sir Alex Ferguson caused a stir recently when he claimed that he had only worked with four 'world class' players during his time as Manchester United manager.
Forever eager to spark controversy, he stoked some heated opinions from football fans of all clubs - not just United. The cause of such debate was the implication that players such as Roy Keane and David Beckham might, unthinkably, not be considered world class.
The term 'world class' is thrown around far too much in the game to the point where it can damage a player's ego. Fergie was actually making a very valid point - there is a clear distinction between a very good player, a top player and a world-class player.
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So what does world class mean? The simplest definition would be: A player who could start for and impact the biggest teams in the world. So a Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich, perhaps?
Form must also be considered when determining a player's status as world class - players who only occasionally turn up are obviously difficult to term 'world class.'
There's a great deal of comparison made between the relative strengths of the top leagues in the world, most specifically Europe, with regards to which is the strongest.
However, such a debate is made difficult given that each argument is subjective. It could be sensible, therefore, to assume that the best league in the world would attract more top players, right?
Using the International Business Times Top 50 players for 2015/16 list, here's how the world's best were separated across Europe.
Barclays Premier League (12 players, 24%)
Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero, Alexis Sanchez, David de Gea, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa, Mesut Ozil, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Matic
La Liga (20 players, 40%)
Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Neymar Jr, Gareth Bale, Sergio Busquets, Andreas Iniesta, Luka Modric, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Diego Godin, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos, Ivan Rakitic, Dani Alves, Isco, Antoine Griezmann, Koke, James Rodriguez
Bundesliga (12 players, 24%)
Arjen Robben, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Philipp Lahm, Artruro Vidal, Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski, Jerome Boateng, Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels, David Alaba, Ricardo Rodriguez
Serie A (2 players, 4%)
Paul Pogba, Gianluigi Buffon
Ligue 1 (3 players, 6%)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Angel Di Maria,
Other (1 player, 2%)
Let's assume that the above players are all world class. It's fairly clear that La Liga is vastly further ahead in terms of numbers, but whilst the list used is an extremely reputable one, it is open to change and interpretation.
What is interesting - and shocking - is how few top players are found in Serie A, a league once littered with names like Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, Luca Toni, Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Del Piero now looks diminished.
Perhaps this is the nature of Italian football - there is very rarely consistency in who is winning due to comings and goings. Juventus, for example, were a very strong side last year until they lost Tevez, Pirlo and Vidal in one window, whereas now, they're struggling to find their feet in the new season. Is Serie A a selling league?
Comparing the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the numbers of 'world class' players are the same. What is interesting is the distribution of these players. Eight of twelve players of the Bundesliga are found at one club: Bayern Munich.
In England, on the other hand, the top players are fairly even throughout the biggest four clubs: Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. It would seem teams are built around one or two stars.
Some would argue that this makes the Premier League a stronger, more competitive viewing prospect in comparison to the Bundesliga. Season after season, Bayern Munich dominate the German league after cherry picking some of the best players of close rivals Dortmund. This makes the league predictable. Looking at the Premier League table even now, it is clear how open the competition is.
Finally, La Liga. In a similar argument to that made earlier of the Bundesliga, the competition is closed. Only three out of the twenty top players are not found at Real or Barca - no team outside the top three clubs has a top 50 player.
As we know, there are usually only two teams in the La Liga title race. The rest of the league is vastly diminished in both it's financial and marketing power. Overall, the league is weak.
In conclusion, the argument of which league is best is a difficult one to make. Looking at individual team strength, La Liga clearly has arguably two of the three best sides in the world, Bayern Munich the other.
Looking at the Premier League, however, each team might have less top players, but they are more fairly distributed, meaning competition is forever at a high. In terms of overall league strength, therefore, the Premier League has to be considered the strongest - at least from a statistical point of view.
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