The Portuguese League is often mocked and disrespected - and I'm okay with it
There's something to be said for enjoying a brand of football that few people get the privilege to indulge in.
In years gone by, the derogatory terms such as 'farmers league' thrown about by fans of opposing leagues in an attempt to belittle Portuguese football has riled me - as I know is the case for many - but not anymore.
The snobbery that comes with these statements is not wholly unjustified, of course. It certainly isn't the most illustrious league; there's less money involved, you get superstars leaving far more often than they arrive, and nobody is under any illusion that it's not on the level as a couple of other leagues in terms of prestige and quality. That's a given. But dismissing the Portuguese Primeira Liga entirely has always been the source of great frustration to avid followers of the league, myself included.
But then one can argue; why should this ignorant viewpoint of some, many of whom have probably never even watched a game of domestic Portuguese football before, be given so much attention?
After all, most people who dismiss leagues like the Portuguese and Russian have never actually sat down to watch a game first-hand, and are instead caught up in this bubble of La Liga and Premier League football because of the money and platform these leagues have.
With that comes a strong sense of elitism and entitlement; which is only natural. In some cases, you get this attitude of 'because I watch the best leagues in the world, I can categorically dismiss any other league as basically semiprofessional, dull and worthless by comparison,' without having watched a single match from the country.
And it's not an uncommon belief at all. Social media is a terrific example. Regularly you will see the achievements and records of the likes of Porto and Benfica harshly critiqued and diminished because the league is made up of 'farmers'. It's a tomgue-in-cheek comment, of course it is, although the sentiment is most certainly sincere. And if you ask me, it’s a pretty uneducated view by all accounts, even if not wholly uncommon.
And again, it should be stressed, this is not a suggestion that the Portuguese league should be considered on the same level as the likes of La Liga and the Bundesliga, of course not. But rather a call for a bit more respect for leagues outside that supposed top bracket, and an opening of the mind for other leagues up and down the continent. There's more to football than just the Premier League/La Liga, and people should feel free to experience it for themselves before dismissing it as entirely unworthy of their viewing.
It's perhaps been even more frustrating to hear it about the Portuguese League considering the huge wealth of talent that always comes through the ranks at the clubs in the country, before they then get snapped up by sides in the likes of Spain, England and Germany. These elite leagues have a fair bit of Portuguese Primeira Liga influence, there's no doubt about it, which makes the criticisms of the league even more ironic.
It's also interesting that we currently have two Portuguese sides remaining in Europe competition - only Spain, England and Italy have as many as that. Even Germany only have one, and France and Russia have none. It's an impressive statistic for the Portuguese league, and shows how the top clubs in Portugal can battle it out with the semi-elite clubs in Europe.
Portugal are also currently ranked 7th in the UEFA Coefficient rankings, a mock-up of where the league ranks on the continental stage. There are therefore 48 domestic leagues below them in total. If such a significant proportion of people consider the Portuguese league below an acceptable level to be taken seriously, it means that virtually the whole continent is wasting its time playing football as all the other leagues must be 'farmers' quality too.
This viewpoint always frustrated me significantly. It's a nod to this European Super League that some quarters of world football are campaigning for; an exclusive club where only the very finest clubs in world football are allowed to participate. Get rid of the time wasters and have a league just for the very best.
And again, I want to stress that this is not a request to have the Primeira Liga be considered on par with La Liga, the EPL, Serie A etc. That would be naive and inaccurate, and the Portuguese league is from perfect. One huge problem with Portuguese football is the level of attendance that you see for the clubs outside the top five. Really small numbers, down to a multitude factors. The top-heavy nature of the league can be a blessing in some cases - we currently have four impressive teams constantly competing for the domestic title - long may it continue - but it also means that viewership of lower league matches is poorly attended. And that's an issue that needs addressing.
So this isn't a call for equality or anything. The league isn't perfect, of course not. But this is instead a hope that people can start to appreciate the uniqueness of the nature of Portuguese football, and a suggestion to them that there's more to football than the bucket loads of cash currently being thrown about. There's more to football than the superstars roaming around in Spain and England. There are exciting league across the continent that you might readily dismiss as unworthy of your viewing because you watch the elite competitions, but in reality they offer drama, excitement and a hatful of quality.
But while this opinion on the continental stage used to agitate me, my opinion has altered somewhat, and if you find yourself reading this as a fan of Portuguese football and find that you too have been irritated by people on the streets or keyboard warriors hurling insults at the Primeira Liga, look at it another way.
While few people seem to entertain the idea of watching Portuguese football, it means that we're in an exclusive club that are privileged enough to get to sample a league that is so niche and unexplored. The community of viewers is immediately lowered, and those with elitist opinions on football don't ever get to experience it for themselves. In essence, those that we wouldn't really want to get the chance to watch Portuguese football are already weaned out; those unable to respect Portuguese football will choose to avoid it - which if you ask me is absolutely fine.
The league can continue to go underappreciated and undervalued, because Portuguese football offers a sense of realism and purity in a footballing world that has spiralled out of control and become dominated by incomprehensible sums of money.
So I for one am delighted with what the Primeira Liga has to offer - and am grateful for those that show leagues like ours an element of respect that is warranted for its existence.