BACK IN the 1960s and early 1970s, English football fans would look at Scotland, Italy, Portugal and other European nations and laugh at “closed shop” leagues that were dominated year-in, year-out by just one or two clubs. English football, they said, was truly democratic and anyone could win the Football League title. In the period 1961-1975 this was certainly true. Between those years, no less than nine clubs won the title. Compare that to the same timespan leading up to 2014-15 and only four teams won the Premier. In short, the English Premier has become that closed shop we all feared.
But it is the same story over much of Europe these days. Money, after all, does the talking and those clubs with the cash, even in smaller markets, will rise to the surface.
The composition of the top three across Europe, past 10 seasons.
|Country||Number of top three Clubs||Number of Champions||Capital City clubs in top three||Last champion from capital|
|Bosnia & Herz.||9||6||2||Sarajevo 2014-15|
|Croatia||9||1||2||Dinamo Zagreb 2014-15|
|Czech Republic||7||4||2||Sparta Prague 2013-14|
|France||9||6||1||Paris St. Germain 2014-15|
|Germany||9||4||0||Hertha Berlin 1931|
|Poland||9||5||1||Legia Warsaw 2013-14|
|Russia||8||3||4||CSKA Moscow 2013-14|
|Slovakia||9||5||2||Slovan Bratislava 2013-14|
|Spain||6||3||2||Atletico Madrid 2013-14|
|Switzerland||7||2||1||Young Boys 1985-86|
England and the Ukraine have had just five teams in their top three over the past decade. This won’t come as much of a surprise to Premier League watchers. The Champions League places have long been a question of who might or might not break in to the top four. In the Ukraine, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev dominate.
In the past few years, a more intense situation has developed across the major leagues: in Germany, Bayern Munich are in charge, France has Paris St. Germain, Italy has been all about Juventus and Spain is Barcelona and two others (!).
There are some fee societies still around: Sweden, for example has had seven different champions in the past decade. France may have had six, but they belong to the pre-PSG era. A similar study starting from, say 2012, will reveal a much different picture.
In some countries, where the capital city would traditionally provide the heart of the football league, and invariably dominate the silverware stakes, things have changed. Bulgaria and Hungary provide good examples of the shift in power. In Bulgaria, the Sofia clubs, CSKA and Levski were king-pins for years, but now, CSKA have been relegated in disgrace and a team from Razgrad, called Ludogorets, has benefitted from investment and has overtaken the Sofia contingent.
Budapest has also fallen from grace and Hungarian football has seen teams like Videoton and Debrecen take the place of the capital’s clubs. But in Romania, 61 of 97 titles have been won by Bucharest clubs – with Steaua and Dinamo winning 44 of them. Germany and Norway do not rely on their capital city for football leadership – if Berlin is the administrative, political and cultural capital, Munich is certainly the football centre for Germany. Oslo is also something of a football backwater. You could argue that the football capital of Italy is Turin, with Milan behind it, rather than Rome. And Barcelona is where it’s at in Spain, despite Real Madrid’s presence in the capital city.
What does this table prove? It shows that some leagues do not provide much competition for the leading teams. Actually, monopolies are no fun and even a duooloy gets tedious. Big clubs need rivalry – Celtic probably cannot wait for Rangers to return to the top tier of Scottish football. And where would Serie A be without its derbies? As we’ve mentioned before, European football is being run by a small bunch of uber-clubs – and that’s not very healthy.