Parity in the Premier League – Man City, Liverpool, United – European Football - La Liga, Bundesliga - News, Facts, Table
Do you know what phrase I absolutely loath?
“The Premier League is the best league in the world.”
Not because I disagree, but because I don’t know what it means.
Does it mean the EPL has the best players? Doubtful. There’s no Messi, no Ronaldo, no Neymar. The last Prem Ballon d’Or nominee was Fernando Torres for Liverpool back in 2008. The last Prem winner was Michael Owen back in 2001.
The Prem, as a whole, has one of the highest quality of players, but the best players in the world? No, not at all.
Sometimes fans will point to finances as means of supremacy over La Liga or the Bundesliga. Who cares? I’m a fan, not an investor, I couldn’t care less about the league’s profit margins or a club's finances.
Okay then, it must mean that Premier League clubs dominates in European competition?
We all know that isn’t true. Historically, in the last 10 Champions Leagues, an English team has won it twice. A Spanish club 6 out of those last 10.
If we expand it out to the previous 20 Champions Leagues, a Prem club has won it 4 times, a Spanish side 10 times.
Okay, so if it’s not the players, if it’s not bags of money, and if it’s not winning titles, what makes the Premier League supposedly the best league in the world?
The fact that any team can beat any given team on any day.
That is what you’ll likely hear if you really drill down to the facts. Prem fans will point to parity as the reason the Prem is the best league in the world. “Anyone can win it” is the go-to answer.
- Is this true?
- Does it even matter?
Parity as an Abstract Concept
Let get straight to the point, parity does not exist in the Premier League nor does it exist in any top-flight league in Europe.
Parity is an abstraction. It’s an end-result of other regulatory processes. Parity cannot bring about outcomes. It’s the exact opposite. Outcomes bring about parity.
For parity to exist it would have to be the result of other concrete regulatory rules that we could easily identify. Additionally, for there to be parity, we would have to be able to assess it.
In other words, we would need a metric to measure parity against. For it to exist, we would need to be able to measure the strength of parity within a given league by assessing the regulatory actions that brought about parity to begin with.
Not only does parity not exist in the Prem as an abstraction, it doesn’t exist at the surface level either. Let’s look at the last few Premier League winners. In 2015 Chelsea won it by 8 points over City. The following year was Leicester’s title run, an obvious outlier and was not the result of parity.
Then in 2017 Chelsea won it again with 7 points, at the same time only 3 points split 1st and 2nd in Spain. Then in 2018 the league was basically done all the way back in January as City won the league with 19 points. Of course, the following year City won it again, but this time by only one point over Liverpool.
United, City, Chelsea, and Arsenal have dominated the league titles over the last couple of decades. The one point split last year between 1st and 2nd covered up the glaring 25-point difference between 2nd and 3rd. Almost 30 points split 1st place and 4th place. That’s a long way from being competitive.
Despite what it may appear at first glance, the Premier League is moving further away from parity, not closer to it.
This is true among all top-flight leagues. The 5 clubs that won the major league titles last year had all won it the year prior, and if pundits and tipsters are to believe, all 5 are set up to win it again for a 3rd time in a row.
What Does Parity Look Like
Once again, if parity truly exists in a league, it does so as a measurable outcome. It isn’t about win/lose ratios, points in the table, or title wins. All of which can be the result of parity but are not indications of it. The easiest way to exam parity is to look at American sports leagues.
Now this article is not a condemnation of the Premier League (it is by far my favorite league of all sports) nor is it an endorsement of MLS (which I frankly kind of hate). Instead I’m solely focused on the subject at hand, and I’m not interested in making sweeping general judgments about the quality of any leagues.
As I mentioned before, to have true parity one would need to have regulatory processes put in place. In the United States, this comes in the form of a wage caps, drafts, and transfer restrictions.
These rules are present in all major American sports, including soccer/football. Regarding the MLS, these rules are often major turn-offs for non-American fans—and understandably so. This is something I’ll touch on again in a minute.
For those who aren’t familiar, a wage cap is a limit of total spending placed on a team. This means a team can only spend a certain amount of money on player salaries, despite how much money they may have. This forces teams to move players around, letting players go to create wage space for new players.
If a team doesn’t keep under the cap, they are “taxed.” This is called a luxury tax and is placed on the amount of money spent above the salary cap.
We also have the draft. The draft helps ensure a balance of talent because the teams who do the worse in the league get the first picks the following year. This helps ensure that weaker teams get the best incoming talent, while also dividing up all incoming talent, preventing one team from hording all the best young players.
For the MLS, the league also includes transfer limits. These limits restrict how much a team can spend on transfer fees, so even if they have space in the wages, they still may be prevented from signing a given player depending on the price. There are some other convoluted rules that help teams navigate these restrictions, but for sake of clarity, I won’t go into those here.
Wage caps, drafts, and transfer restrictions are all regulatory actions put in place to guarantee parity within a given league, and as such, those actions can be assessed and measured. Parity as a concept is an abstraction. A wage cap, as one example, is a concrete action that could produce parity.
However, the bigger question at hand is: do fans even want parity?
Does Parity Matter
When it come to the NFL and NBA, yes absolutely. We must have these rules put in place to help ensure some sense of parity, and even then, that doesn’t usually translate to teams being equally matched on the field, but that is partially the result of what teams do with their resources.
Thus, why parity cannot be measured solely by the product on the field because there is the variable of what a team does with its allotted resources that affects the quality of the end product.
Simply put, if I give two people $100, what they end up doing with their money is what separates them. They both started out equal but may not finish equal. Therefore, the idea that “anyone can win it” as proof of parity is a falsehood.
But if we applied American parity regulations to European football would the end-result be desirable? I think a resounding NO would be the answer.
Manchester City as a global powerhouse would not exist, United storied past would be a fraction of what it is, Chelsea under Abramovich would be forgettable, Arsenal's invincibles would have never happened. Headline shattering transfers like Pogba or Neymar would be a thing of the past.
Additionally, in Europe, no single league could institute any regulatory practices without all leagues doing so, making it even more unlikely that we would ever see anything like wage caps in European football. Instead of clubs looking for parity within their own leagues, they seek to bring about equal footing in comparison to other top clubs in international leagues.
Many fans will bemoan that lack of parity and claim that it’s something that should be at least sought after. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned from all my years on the internet, fans seldom want what they say they want.
European clubs have a long history of independence from one another—unlike the franchise model of American sports. Combine this with the long traditions of European clubs, and you will start to see how far away clubs are from having anything resembling parity.
And that’s just A-Okay with me.
What do You Think?
Tell me your opinion. Do you think parity is something that should be strived for or is it merely a buzzword thrown about by talking-heads on TV? Would you like to see rules like wage caps and transfer restrictions applied to the Premier League?
Let me know your thoughts down below. And once again, this is not a critique of the Premier League. Truth be told, I do think it’s the most entertaining league in the world. It’s my favorite sports league. Hands down. But to say it’s the best, well that’s a wasted breathe.