With Spain increasingly the destination of choice for the world’s top players, Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand concedes that La Liga can claim to host football’s best league.
The stage for the Premier League to reassert its supremacy is the Champions League, Ferdinand argued in an interview with The Associated Press.
The England centre back has seen Spanish football’s standing surge in the last year with the national team becoming European champion and Barcelona derailing United’s bid for back-to-back Champions League triumphs in May’s final.
And since then, Ferdinand’s United side has been weakened by world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo joining a Real Madrid side which has also lured Kaka from AC Milan, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic has joined Barcelona.
“La Liga have bought marquee players - I think Ronaldo obviously, Kaka and Ibrahimovic are three of the best players in the world and any team would like to have them,” Ferdinand told the AP. “They’ve all gone to La Liga alongside the likes of (Lionel) Messi, (Andres) Iniesta, Xavi (Hernandez) and people like that (at Barcelona). So they’ve got a claim to being the best league in the world.
“I think the last three or four years we’ve had English teams in the semifinals of the Champions League ... at least two so that says it all about where the Premier League is at the moment. This season we have to wait and see - with the proof in the pudding - if we’re still the best league in the world or not.”
A confrontation closer to home for United is the growing threat from neighbour Manchester City, which has spent around $200 million since May building a title-contending side after several barren decades.
While European football’s governing body has led criticism of City’s heavy spending since Sheik Mansour’s takeover last September, Ferdinand embraces it, believing greater competition only serves to enhance the Premier League.
“I’m sure they will be hoping to be up there and trying to contend for the top four spots,” he said. “You’ve got to look at it as a fan, it’s great when there are more contenders for the league title.
“You can see the social issues and the social ethics of saying the world’s in recession at the moment and it may be wiser to spend it in different ways, but who am I to tell them (City) to spend their money in a different way?”
That is despite United spending barely 20 million pounds in the off-season - just a quarter of the windfall from Ronaldo’s sale.
When asked if he wished United was throwing around money like City, Ferdinand said: “I’d be a lot more envious and maybe a bit jealous if I didn’t have the squad that I’ve got in my training room.
“I’m confident we can win every game,” he maintained.
But the Red Devils have made a stuttering start to their bid for a fourth straight Premier League title - and record 19th overall - having beaten Birmingham and Wigan, but losing to newcomer Burnley.
“We all know we’ve started badly on the last few occasions in the past couple of seasons,” Ferdinand said. “We’ve managed to win it and hopefully this can be the same scenario.”
There was no gloating from Ferdinand about Liverpool losing its second match of the season on Monday to Aston Villa.
“It’s early days, you don’t win the league in the first couple of weeks of the season, you win towards the end when you put a few good results together and you go through the thick of the Christmas period, and if you get through on top there, hopefully you can get over the line.”
These are frustrating times for the 30-year-old Ferdinand having spent the opening weeks of the season as a spectator while recovering from a thigh injury.
Despite being sidelined at times last season with back and calf problems, Ferdinand is quick to dispel doubts about his long-term fitness as he targets a September 12 return at Tottenham.
“People made a bit more of it than it was - last season was the first season in a long career so far that I’ve had a sustained period out of the team,” said Ferdinand, who joined United from Leeds in 2002 for 30 million pounds. “I played 40-odd games last season, which is more than most other players in the league - so I’m not doing too badly. A lot of players would be happy to start 40-odd games.”
When he is away from the pitch, Ferdinand is developing a new career as a digital publisher.
For the latest edition of online magazine 5 - Ferdinand’s shirt number - he has interviewed United fan Usain Bolt and Roger Federer.
“This is something I can do to get my mind off the game,” Ferdinand said. “As a kid I think I thought about the game too much, but now I think about it at the right times.”
Ferdinand, who grew up in the gritty streets of south London, also takes a keen interest in social issues, notably spearheading campaigns to eradicate knife crime.
Yet he believes some fellow Englishmen are “disrespectful” by focusing on their hardships without recognizing the opportunities available in this country.
“I’ve travelled to different parts of the world and I’ve seen poverty on a different level,” he said. “You see Africa and the pictures from Iraq and Palestine and places like that where people are in real poverty and real war-torn countries where it is really hard to live.
“We have to make sure we have to capitalize on that rather than thinking, ‘I am deprived,’ when you are not really when you look at it from other people’s perspectives across the world.”