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Despite having no representatives in the world's best side, English football's top-flight, packed full of star players, remains as entertaining and full of quality as ever

COMMENT
By Ewan Roberts

This week, the good and the great of world football descended on Zurich to revel in their respective accolades of the previous year. But, not for the first time, there was barely a single hint that English football even existed – save for Roy Hodgson's surprisingly debonair turn as he presented the Coach of the Year awards, and Joe Hart's ill-judged rush from his line that allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to claim the Puskas Award in such emphatic fashion.

For the second consecutive year the Premier League has no representative in the FIFPro World XI – as voted for by 50,000 professional players – and, while the 2012 domination of La Liga was broken up, the Clasico stronghold has only been diluted with players from Paris Saint-Germain and treble-winners Bayern Munich, not English clubs. Wayne Rooney, meanwhile, remains the only Premier League player to have appeared in the select XI in the last four seasons.

On top of that, it is six years since a Premier League player last featured in the Ballon d'Or top three. Back then, in 2008, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who ended a seven-year wait for a Premier League winner of the Ballon d'Or, following on from Michael Owen – himself the first English winner since Kevin Keegan some two decades earlier. For many, this is seen as a symptom of a league that is in decline and devoid of the cream talent of world football; the final nail in the coffin. Rubbish.

INSATIABLE SUAREZ
EUROPE'S LEADING MARKSMEN
  APPS GOALS ASSISTS

SUAREZ
16 22 5

RONALDO
18 20 4

COSTA
19 19 1
For a start, both awards are entirely subjective and the parameters of how to judge players are largely undefined: is it the best players, or the players that had the best seasons? Should the achievements of players who have enjoyed great team success, say the Bayern side, supersede the non-existent trophy haul of Ronaldo, despite his undoubted individual brilliance?

As well as the popularity contest element, unseen political wranglings and inter-club/country solidarity (Cote d'Ivoire captain Didier Drogba voting for Yaya Toure, or Wales captain Ashley Williams picking Gareth Bale), there is also a sense that selections are reflective; they single out and honour last year's man, not this year's, and there is a tendency to celebrate players because of past glory and reputation rather than current form – Dani Alves, for example, has done nothing to merit being selected, out of position, at left-back, after an unspectacular year.

That notion is most easily summed up in the astonishing absence of Luis Suarez. The Uruguay international scored 27 league goals in 2013 despite a 10-game ban – that's just one goal fewer than Lionel Messi managed in La Liga. Meanwhile, no player in Europe's top five leagues has scored more leagues goals this season than Suarez, whose 22 strikes have come in just 16 games, averaging a goal or assist every 53 minutes.

And he is not the only star lighting up English football. Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero ooze quality for Manchester City, Aaron Ramsey has been in delicious form for leaders Arsenal, while Mesut Ozil (Ronaldo's third pick for the Ballon d'Or, no less) has shone since moving to north London. Chelsea boast a plethora of talent, not least Eden Hazard, while Rooney (the second most prolific assister in Europe) and Robin van Persie are players who undoubtedly sit in the world-class bracket. At the top of the pile is Suarez, though, who is not just the most devastating player in the Premier League right now, but world football.

EUROPE: HEAD-TO-HEAD
  POINTS BETWEEN TOP SIX AVERAGE
ATTEN-
DANCE
CHAMPIONS
LEAGUE
PTS / GD

PREMIER LEAGUE
8 36,5k 53 / +29

EREDIVISIE
10 19,2k 8 / -3

LIGUE 1
15 20,6k 13 / +2

BUNDESLIGA
16 43,1k 47 / +16

LA LIGA
18 26,8k 46 / +29

SERIE A
20 23,5k 25 / +4
More than that, he plays for a Liverpool side that finished in just seventh place last season, and occupy fourth place this term. Suarez, who creates something out nothing and wins matches single-handedly on a dazzlingly regular basis, coupled with a Liverpool side that scored 84 league goals in 2013 (that's more than title winners Juventus, 78, and PSG, 67, managed), would claim the title in most other countries. But not England, where the competitiveness is on an entirely different level.

Just eight points separate the top six in English football's top flight, with the reigning champions, Manchester United, only sitting in seventh position. There are three main favourites for the title, but any of six teams still harbour hopes of domestic silverware. Meanwhile, the situation is far less interesting elsewhere, with greater gaps at the top (as high as 20 points between first and sixth in Serie A), and runaway favourites everywhere but La Liga, where Atletico Madrid are trying to upset the Clasico duopoly.

English teams are holding their own in Europe, too, with Wigan the only side to have been knocked out so far – who, of course, were relegated to the Championship and are almost unrecognisable from the side that won the FA Cup.

England are one of just two nations, the other being Germany, to still have four sides left in the Champions League. Man United, struggling domestically, beat Group A rivals Bayer Leverkusen 9-2 on aggregate over their two encounters, Man City won at the Allianz Arena (the first side to do so since Arsenal) and English clubs accrued more points collectively than any other nation, also boasting the joint-best goal difference with Spain. In the Europa League, Tottenham are one of just two teams with a 100 per cent record, and they also have the best goal difference in the tournament.

Aside from results, the Premier League has garnered a reputation for entertainment – and lots of it. It may not be the most cultured division in Europe, but the open, end-to-end nature produces gloriously frenzied encounters, such as Liverpool's 5-3 win over Stoke City on Sunday or West Brom's thrilling 5-5 draw with Man United on the final day of the 2012-13 season.

The teams at the bottom have a rarely equalled never-say-die attitude – a trait that has been frequently picked out and lauded by Jose Mourinho, unaccustomed to such valiance and defiance compared to the white-flag-waving sides that La Liga produces – and the teams in the middle play absorbing, hugely laudable football, such as the possession-heavy Swansea City or the high-tempo, aggressive-pressing Southampton.

The Premier League's enduring popularity is backed up by figures both at home and globally. Despite charging more than any other country, and with some of the most well-followed teams in English football playing in lower divisions, the Premier League has the second best average attendance behind only the infinitely cheaper Bundesliga, while it is the most watched league on television in the world.

Far from being on the wane, the Premier League is at its most entertaining – and is all geared up for one of the most exhilarating and unpredictable finales in recent memory. With droves of world-class talent, including Europe's most in-form player, a plethora of sides primed to go deep in the Champions League and top-end competition that is unparalleled on the continent, English football has little to be worried about – least of all their continued FIFPro omission.

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