Thirty years after its inaugural season, the Premier League can rightly celebrate its status as the world's most popular football league. There's not one factor behind it; there are many, and you might be familiar with them.

In no particular order, you might cite the following: heritage (the game was invented here, after all), language (English is the world's lingua franca), a very pro-business environment that facilitates foreign investment, strong leadership that regularly presents a united front (especially in the 15 years Richard Scudamore was in charge), excellent marketing and packaging/production values, a willingness to embrace expertise from abroad (not just players, but coaches, owners and executives too) and, often overlooked, a strong domestic market that is fiercely loyal and willing to spend on their club.

There might be others too, you may disagree with some of the above and we could probably debate endlessly the impact of each factor listed. But here are two which, as I see it, really don't apply or, at a minimum, are vastly overrated: superstars and competitiveness, which, to some, might seem counterintuitive: surely you expect success to be driven by household names. And, surely, you need some level of unpredictability and competition, or fans will lose interest.

I'd argue that the Premier League is evidence that this might not be the case. Or, rather, that these weren't key factors in spurring the league's growth, unlike, say, the NBA in its heyday.

Start with the superstar piece. Admittedly, it's a fuzzy, know-it-when-I-see-it concept. But if you take it to mean some combination of being among the very best in the world, popularity and having a commensurate hype machine/commercial operation following you around, you might find that there have been fewer in the Premier League than you think, at least before Erling Haaland's arrival.

Scan the highest echelons of the A-list and who do you have? Cristiano Ronaldo (minus the 15 years in the prime of his career he spent in Spain and Italy either side of his two spells at Manchester United). David Beckham (though, of course, he left age 28). Zlatan Ibrahimovic (again, arriving on the downside and not staying very long). Thierry Henry? Wayne Rooney? Kevin De Bruyne? Mohamed Salah?

These are exceptional players, sure. But even at their peak, few reached the level of hype and global superstardom of a Kylian Mbappe or a Neymar or a Ronaldinho. Take one very simple metric, football's ultimate popularity contest: the Ballon d'Or.

Regular readers will know I'm not a fan precisely because it is a giant media exposure and popularity contest. But for the purposes here, it's pretty much perfect. Consider the past 20 editions of the award. Premier League players finished in the top five just 17 out of 100 times. Thierry Henry on three occasions, Ronaldo twice and 12 other guys just once.