Top four is top four, wherever you may be

Back in the 1950s, anyone could have finished top of this ladder...
Back in the 1950s, anyone could have finished top of this ladder…

The recent video produced by Touchline TV featuring Mansfield Town’s Carolyn Radford, reminded us of the apparent lack of competitiveness in the English Premier. True enough, the top four of the EPL seems to be a closed shop, but is it really so different from anywhere else?

There’s no denying that a rarely changing top four has become tedious, unless of course you happen to be a fans of Arsenal, Chelsea and the Manchester duo. Over the past 10 years, and before this season, only one team had consistently finished in the top four – Arsenal. The’ve virtually made fourth place their own property. Chelsea and Manchester United had featured nine times and City, just four.

How does this compare with other top European leagues?

  Top 4 clubs Title winners Ever presents
Austria 10 4 None (Red Bull Salzburg and Austria Wien x 9)
Czech Republic 10 4 None (Sparta Prague x 9)
England 7 3 Arsenal
France 14 6 None (Lyon x 9)
Germany 11 4 Bayern Munich
Italy 10 3 None (Milan x 8)
Netherlands 7 4 Ajax, PSV
Portugal 8 2 Benfica, Porto
Russia 10 4 None (CSKA and Zenit x 9)
Spain 11 3 Barcelona and Real Madrid
Switzerland 9 2 Basle


So the English Premier is far removed from the ultra-democratic French Ligue 1, but take a look in a year or two and things will undoubtedly look different as the influence of inflated investment begins to take hold.

The fact is, most football leagues have their monied clubs and their also-rans. Across time, it has always been the teams with money that win prizes. Success outside that bracket has never been sustainable.

In some ways, the English league was behind the curve in creating an elite group of ultra-dominant clubs. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, we used to pride ourselves in being a nation where a large number of clubs could win prizes. At the same time, we looked at other countries and sneered at their duopolies and monopolies. Today, we know the dominant clubs in each of the top leagues almost as well as we know our own: Spain – Real and Barca; Germany – Bayern; Italy – Juve; France – PSG; Portugal – Benfica and Porto; Scotland – Celtic.

Just consider the period at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, what many consider to be something of a golden age for English domestic football (League champions and FA Cup winners):

  England Scotland Italy Spain Germany Portugal
1967-68 Manchester City & West Bromwich Celtic & Dunfermline Milan & Torino Real Madrid & Barcelona Nurnberg & Cologne Benfica & Porto
1968-69 Leeds United & Manchester City Celtic & Celtic Fiorentina & Roma Real Madrid & Athletic Bilbao Bayern Munich & Bayern Munich Benfica & Benfica
1969-70 Everton & Chelsea Celtic & Aberdeen Cagliari & Bologna Atletico Madrid & Real Madrid Borussia Moenchengladbach & Kickers Offenbach Sporting & Benfica
1970-71 Arsenal & Arsenal Celtic & Celtic Inter & Torino Valencia & Barcelona Borussia Moenchengladbach & Bayern Munich Benfica & Sporting
1971-72 Derby County & Leeds United Celtic & Celtic Juventus & Milan Real Madrid & Atletico Madrid Bayern Munich & Schalke Benfica & Benfica
  7 Clubs 3 clubs 8 clubs 5 clubs 6 clubs 3 clubs


There’s one way that perhaps we can change things, but it probably won’t happen. The “uber clubs” can create their own competition and run it independent of their domestic leagues. Given that these clubs build their squads not just to win their league but for European domination, it should make little difference to them. A 20-team European Super League, packed with multinational teams. Then the rest of the world can get on with their domestic competitions. The top four would look different in England then….

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