Without a doubt, the Premier League is the best league in the world for attacking soccer from wide areas. English football has always had a tradition of wingers and great crossers of the ball going back to the days of Stanley Matthews, Alan Ball, and George Best to name a few. These days, even though the tactical role of the wingers has changed, the top teams are still at their best from wide areas. Manchester United’s dominance has been built on outstanding wide players with Giggs, Sharpe, Kanchelskis, Ronaldo, Nani, Valencia all starring in the flanks. Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox provided enough service for Shearer and Sutton to win the title for Blackburn Rovers in 1995. Jose Mourinho found similar success from wide areas with Duff and Robben in dominant form during the Special One’s reign. Arsene Wenger has also relied on width with Overmars, Walcott, Pires, and even Henry, drifting into that danger zone in the Premier League. For coaches like me, the Premier League is a clinic in how to be effective when the ball goes wide. Every week, over 70% of the goals are from either wide players cutting in, pull backs, driven crosses, overlaps, underlaps, or corners.
The speed of play in the Premier League is unlike every other league in the world. Sometimes this can be to the detriment of the game because the ‘tika taka’ style of the Primera or tactical chess game of Serie A are not given the opportunity to develop in the English game. In the continent, if you control the tempo, you control the game. In England, the tempo is not up for grabs – instead, it is embedded in every team’s DNA and demanded to be produced by the fans every week. The hustle and bustle of the Premiership can sometimes make it less of a thinking man’s game, but if you can add quality to the speed and power of the game, world class soccer is the end product. Because of the speed of the game, players’ concentration levels and physical fitness have to be at their peak. When they fall below the standard of the opposition, it invariably results in goals and excitement – which is what fans want to see. It takes a brave fan, or maybe an inexperienced one, who leaves a Premiership game early. History of the Premier League is littered with last minute winners and none more dramatic than Aguero’s winner for Manchester City last season that resulted in the title going to the Ethiad for the first time. You are guaranteed action in every one of the 90 plus minutes you attend a Premier League game. Where else does that happen?!
It takes enormous amounts of mental strength to be a player or coach in any professional soccer league. For players and coaches involved in the Premiership, mental strength will determine how long they can stay in a job. Most of this pressure comes from outside the soccer field. When you sign your million pound contract, you basically hand over your private life to the 24/7 media circus. Add this to the 40,000 supporters demanding your personal best, and sometimes even more. Life can be stressful to say the least. This results in a game off the pitch being almost as important as the actual match itself. Some of the best coaches have let the pressure get the best of them with Kevin Keegan’s “I will love it” and Rafa Benitez’s “Fact” rants evidence that it is not just the players who feel the heat. Managers like Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, and Harry Redknapp have enjoyed success because of media relations and the ability to manipulate the headlines. Similar to the tempo of the game, the added pressure creates excitement and drama every week to all Premiership grounds. The Premiership is the biggest test of mental strength for a player – and those that can keep their cool become the stars of the show.
The Premier League is not perfect. Like every other league there are some overpaid players, too much diving, and too much emphasis on refereeing decisions. But if you attend a game or turn on Fox Soccer Channel, you know exactly what to expect. A free flowing game at 100 miles an hour with players, fans, and coaches committed to the result as if their lives depended on it. I will take that any day of the week.
If you enjoyed this article, check out Robin Schuppert's piece, "Bundesliga: The Best League in the World".