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Pool close in on United in battle for global fans

It is not just on the pitch that Liverpool are closing the gap on Manchester United: the English Premier League leaders are also winning the battle for new fans around the world.

sports Updated: Dec 10, 2008 10:38 IST

It is not just on the pitch that Liverpool are closing the gap on Manchester United: the English Premier League (EPL) leaders are also winning the battle for new fans around the world.

The biggest-ever survey of EPL fans across the globe has revealed that Liverpool are on the verge of toppling United from their perch as the best-supported club in the world's favourite league.

The survey, organised by the EPL's principal sponsors, Barclays, polled 32,000 fans in 185 countries and territories.

United remain the most popular club but only by the tiniest of margins with both teams attracting the backing of 26 per cent of the supporters who took part in the voluntary survey.

For Liverpool, that represents a significant advance on the 18 percent figure they registered in a similar but smaller survey carried out by Barclays three years ago.

The popularity of Liverpool's biggest stars also suggests that United's status as the most valuable brand in English football is under siege.

Cristiano Ronaldo may have been a near unanimous choice for this year's Ballon d'Or after inspiring his club to a Premier League and Champions League double.

But he trails behind Liverpool duo Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard in terms of popularity among fans.

Historically, Thierry Henry continues to be regarded as the greatest player to have graced the Premier League since its launch in 1992 - although it is Henry's Barcelona team-mate, Lionel Messi, that fans regard as the most desirable target among stars currently plying their trade outside England.

There are important regional differences in the survey's findings. Eric Cantona is still the king for fans in South Africa and United are still out in front as the most popular team in Asia, buoyed perhaps by the fact that South Korean midfielder Park Ji-Sung is now a regular at Old Trafford.

The survey is not encouraging for Chelsea's hopes of supplanting Manchester United as the English club with the biggest international fan base.

The west London club appear to be regarded as this season's team to beat - 37 per cent of fans tipped them to win the title - but only ten per cent are willing to declare themselves supporters, well behind Arsenal (15 per cent), as well as the market leaders Manchester United and Liverpool.

The survey offers intriguing insights into the importance of the EPL in the lives of its followers: over two thirds of them will have splashed out on a replica shirt and nearly half regard football as more important than family matters, job or relationship issues.

The poll also reflects technological change with the internet (82 per cent of those polled) now almost as important a medium for the enjoyment of football as television (92 per cent).

Newspapers meanwhile have been relegated to third place (55 percent) and are under siege from new platforms such as internet feeds to mobile phones.

Some traditional aspects of English football culture continue to dominate with the passion of fans and the atmosphere in the country's stadiums ranked as the most attractive feature of the EPL, ahead of the attacking style of play.

And despite the huge influence of non-English players, the vitality of the EPL continues to be seen as a strong base for England's national team.

They may have failed to make Euro 2008 under Steve McClaren, but EPL fans around the world have made them Fabio Capello's squad favourites to lift the World Cup in South Africa next year.