Modern football is astronomically expensive to compete in, with the English leagues in particular standing above all others thanks to the £9bn pocketed by the Premier League in a recent string of lucrative oversea television deals.
For club owners, chairmen, chief executives and heads of football, a great way of getting ahead of the game is by pooling your resources in a wider net and exploring possible gems in foreign leagues. The ‘big three’ leagues of England, Germany and Spain have all made a habit of ‘pinching and trimming off’ the top crop of talents emerging in various leagues across the continent and building from there.
So, if you’re a wannabe chief executive, read on for our take on the very best leagues in the current market to shop in and source the next generation of talented footballers.
The Eredivisie (Netherlands)
The fairytale stories of Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt last season was just the latest chapter in long storybook of successful exports from the Dutch Eredivisie to wider Europe.
The likes of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, AZ Alkmaar and Feyenoord routinely dominate the Netherlands’ premier league, and at one time boasted the pinnacle of ‘total football’ courtesy of the likes of Johan Cruyff. Iconic and legendary managers such as Louis Van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard have also emerged from this league and taken their successful philosophies abroad.
In recent times, the Eredivisie has proudly amassed a constant flow of world-class talents flying to all corners of the UEFA region. The likes of Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, Dirk Kuyt, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Daley Blind and Arjen Robben having all shown their talent of the top end of the English Premier League.
In more recent times, the Italian Serie A has been a keen destination for Eredivise exports, with the likes of Matthijs De Ligt, Hirving Lozano, Arkadiusz Milik, Kevin Strootman and Justin Kluivert having all fetched a large price tag in their respective moves from the Netherlands to Italy.
Serie A (Italy)
While it might have been the undisputed king of the football world, the Italian Serie A has struggled to keep up with its rivals in recent times. A more strategic approach to the beautiful game, coupled with infamous scandals such as Calciopoli in 2006, has seen the Italian league’s stock take something of a tumble as its star players have left for pastures new.
The decline of clubs such as A.C. Milan routinely brought about mass exoduses in the transfer market, with legendary figures such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva leaving the club soon after hitting a rich vein of form.
In more recent times, the likes of Jorginho, Alisson, Mohammed Salah and Paul Pogba have all made their way to the Premier League alone from the top Italian division.
Liga NOS (Portugal)
When talking about the world of great exports, we couldn’t possibly gloss or skip over what remains one of football’s greatest ever signings: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Signed by Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in the summer of 2003, the Portuguese winger came to England and embarked on a meteoric journey that would, eventually, see him named as the indisputable best player in the world in 2008. Ferguson continued shopping in the area following the arrival of Ronaldo, recruiting Nani from Sporting Lisbon and Anderson from Porto in 2008.
Since then, there have been dozens of fantastic exports from Portugal’s premier league, the Liga NOS.
Joao Felix smashed records across the land when he signed for Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2019, joining the likes of Eder Militao who joined cross-town rivals Real from Porto in the same window.
Premier League side Wolves have also begun fast-tracking plenty of exports from Portugal to the Premier League thanks to the hands of super-agent Jorge Mendes, building the side around a core of Raul Jimenez, Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho.
With the likes of Sporting’s Bruno Fernandes now a regular fixture amongst the hottest transfer rumours rife in every window, it’s clear that the top level of talent available in Portugal is still positively ripe for skimming for would-be buyers.
Ligue 1 (France)
With the dominance of Paris Saint-Germain within the league now guaranteed for the immediate and foreseeable futures, the French league is now one of the easiest leagues in European football to shop in.
The early 2000s saw the first big launch of exports from the French Ligue 1, with the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Ronaldinho, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien all moving from their respective clubs to some of the best clubs from around the continent.
Players such as Flourent Malouda and Karim Benzema would also secure moves away from the respective clubs and begin to establish themselves as regular fixtures in their new sides’ lineups.
In more recent times, almost every French club outside of PSG has seemingly sold more than they have bought. Lille, Marseille and Lyon have all secured high profile moves for players ranking from Eden Hazard to Youri Tielemans.
Special mention has to go to Monaco following their memorable 2016/17 season that saw them storm past PSG to a league title and a Champions League semi-final appearance. The side was soon stripped bare however, with star names such as Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Fabinho and Thomas Lemar all departing for fees ranging from 40million Euros to over 100million.