The Premier League Should Heed Fifpro Snub
None of them are in it. Nobody from Arsenal, from Chelsea, from Liverpool, from Manchester United, from Manchester City, or from Tottenham. Not one player from the whole of English football. Not one. The Fifpro 2016 Team of The Year, announced at the The Best Fifa Awards, does not include a single representative of the Premier League. Paul Pogba, the most expensive player in the world, just missed out, by two votes, but even he failed to make it.
The Premier League, so often held up, in England, as the best league in the world, does not, according to Fifpro’s electorate, host any of the world’s best players. Not even one. For all the money that English clubs receive from television companies, the world’s very best remain distributed, largely, between four clubs: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and, to a lesser extent, Juventus. Pogba, who missed the cut by two votes, was included in the Fifpro XI during his time at Juventus. So, even in the case of the same player, there may be, around the footballing world, a conception that the best football is not played in the Premier League.
The Premier League has money, it has historically storied clubs, but to win the greatest honours, players move elsewhere. Every year since 2011-12, an English club has failed to reach the final of the Champions League, failing, really, to challenge the European elite. The zenith came with the 2007-08 Moscow final, as Manchester United played Chelsea. Since then, there has only been decline. This season, too, Premier League clubs look some way behind the very best on the continent.
Individual honours are also won outside of the Premier League. The last English-based player to win the Ballon d’Or was Cristiano Ronaldo, in 2008, and, before that, Michael Owen in 2001. Both then moved to Real Madrid, the ability to win football’s highest individual honour not even sufficient to persuade the pair to stay in the Premier League. Good players do play in the Premier League, at some point in their career, but they then seek to move on. It is only a station, not the final destination. The real draw, the real prestige, is sought in Spain and with El Clasico. Since 2009, Every winner of the Ballon d’Or – there have only been two – have been participants in El Clasico but, looking deeper, in those years each and every one of the top three players has been playing in Spain, aside from the one-time inclusions of Franck Ribery and Manuel Neuer.
Spain’s domination of the world football’s highest prizes is comprehensive, but not necessarily permanent. These things move around. Serie A was the envy of world football in the late 80s and early 90s, before the Premier League cemented its own status in the mid-00s. Now, Spain provides the best with a home but with the passage of time affecting even Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, a new cohort will take to the top. Neymar – based in Spain – may be the next in line, along with Antoine Griezmann – also based in Spain – and Gareth Bale – yeah, based in Spain – but the likes of Paul Pogba, Kevin De Bruyne and Dele Alli could develop to challenge for the highest honours. The boosted television money could ensure that players stick with Premier League clubs for longer or even choose to move to England despite interest from Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. But nothing is guaranteed.
In a week in which Paul Merson’s Premier League exceptionalism has been making headlines, the current state of the field at the very top of the world game should ensure that the English Football Men temper their chest-beating. It won’t, the mindset is already too ingrained, but it should. English football needs to recognise that the very best players currently operate outside of England. The situation will not be remedied by clinging mindlessly on to an out-dated view of the Premier League.