IT’S well known that Real Madrid were the outstanding team of the UEFA Champions League in the period between 2010 and 2019, winning the trophy four times. In terms of overall European prizes, Chelsea, Sevilla and Atlético Madrid all won three, although only the Londoners lifted the “cup with the big ears” from that trio.
From a domestic perspective (League and Cup), who were Europe’s most successful teams? The popular view today is that modern football is dominated by a handful of clubs, and certainly at the very top level, the final stages of the Champions League are monotonously similar each year. But what we see in the major leagues such as Spain, Italy, Germany and France is more or less replicated across the continent, in fact in 45% of all leagues, one team dominates, largely because of economic advantages.
The most successful winner of leagues and cups (not including league cups as they apply to very few countries), is none other than Shakhtar Donetsk of the Ukraine. Considering this is a club that has suffered considerable disruption over recent years, their record is phenomenal, although they clearly have greater resources than many of their rivals. Shakhtar, with 15 domestic titles, won eight league championships and two cups, not bad considering they have Dynamo Kyiv to contend with. They are, arguably, the best team from former Soviet states and have appeared in the group stage of the Champions League in nine of the last 10 campaigns, which undoubtedly strengthens their position at home.
Top 10 clubs 2010-2019
The New Saints of Wales, Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps, Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia and Belarus’ BATE Borisov all won 14 trophies, nine of which were league titles. The only other team to win nine championships was Sherriff of Moldova.
It has long been a point of discussion that Europe’s leading leagues, the so-called “big five” are suffering from competitive imbalance and it cannot be denied that a single club being in overwhelming control is not good for the game. In France (Paris Saint-Germain), Germany (Bayern Munich), Italy (Juventus) and Spain (Barcelona), the story is becoming all too familiar. Only in England is there any uncertainty, despite the almost annual declaration that the current league leaders may be the “best ever”. Until these leagues were all suspended due to the Coronavirus. PSG, Bayern, Juve and Barca were all top once more, but in the Premier, Liverpool were on the brink of their first title in 30 years.
Other one-club leagues over the past decade include Austria (Red Bull Salzburg), Scotland (Celtic), Switzerland (Basel), Greece (Olympiakos), Cyprus (Apoel Nicosia) and Bulgaria (Ludogorets).
Some countries are more of a duopoly. Portugal, the Netherlands and Serbia are good examples of two big clubs slugging it out for the top prizes – in Portugal, Benfica and Porto, Ajax and PSV in the Netherlands (with occasional intrusion from Feyenoord), and the Belgrade duo, Red Star and Partizan in Serbia.
Number of champions, comparing the decades
It is interesting that few of the teams that dominate their respective leagues come from the capital cities. For example, teams from second cities and provinces are leading the way in Spain, Italy, Germany, Scotland and Ukraine. In England, too, Manchester and Liverpool are ahead of London, while in Portugal, Porto are challenging Benfica from Lisbon, the capital. To some extent, this underlines the view that professional football grew up out of industrial towns and cities rather administrative and cultural centres.
In all major leagues, the number of champions has decreased. For instance, in the 1960s, the English league had eight champions while in the 1970s this reduced to six. In the past 10 years, there have been just four. It’s the same in almost all the top leagues – even in Spain where there were four champions in the 1970s, the number of title winners over the past 10 has been just three as Barcelona and Real Madrid, joined by the rising Atlético Madrid, have become financial giants in their own right.
Germany has steadily reduced over the decades, with just two champions, falling from eight in the 1960s. Turkey buck the trend with more champions (four) than 50 years ago. Overall, 25% of European leagues have had two champions in the period between 2010 and 2019. Just over 20% have had three and 30% four.
Of the top 10 trophy winners, Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps had the best league win-rate at 80.1%. Shakhtar (77.7%), Barcelona (76.05%) and Sherriff (74.54%) are close behind.
These figures make no provision for the relative strength of the teams involved, they are all about performance and on the basis of major domestic prizes. If the current trend continues, it is likely that the next decade will see further polarisation and hence, fewer league champions.