Which domestic leagues are UEFA's strongest?
According to the UEFA coefficient rankings the Spanish La Liga, English Premier League and the German Bundesliga are head and shoulders above the other European domestic leagues. This table is based on a cumulative score of how clubs in each of the UEFA member leagues have performed in both UEFA competitions over the past five seasons. And there is a clear gap between the top three and the Italian Serie A who have both the French Ligue 1 and Portugal Primeira Liga closing the gap for fourth spot.
The significance of the ranking is that it is the means to decide how many Europa and champions’ league places each domestic league is allocated. But many pundits and supporters would argue that these rankings do not show the full picture and that other factors should be taken into account.
Looking at the rankings alone the EPL is still the joint big dog of Europe, but their seasonal score is on a three year decline and that’s despite Chelsea’s fluke success in the champions’ league last year. Big spenders Chelsea and Manchester City have heavily underperformed as they failed to get out of the group stage (with City finishing bottom) as Manchester United and Arsenal failed to reach the last eight. This is particularly alarming as the last time an English club failed to reach the quarter finals of Europe’s elite competition was 17 years ago.
The only positive is the Europa league performances which could yet increase England’s 2012-13 score, and even then it is a competition that EPL teams traditionally neglect. So there is a case to argue that the coefficient rankings dwells too much on past seasons and does not fairly represent the current order of European football. Otherwise how could England be in any way comparable to La Liga or even comfortably ahead of the Bundesliga with no quarter-finalists in the champions’ league and nothing more than a single semi-finalist in the Europa league?
Spain unsurprisingly top the table as they possess the might of Real Madrid and Barcelona who have rarely failed to reach the semi-finals of the champion’s league. In the past Spanish football has been criticized for being overly dominant by the big two, but with the emergence of a genuinely top quality Athletic Madrid side who stand a real chance of finishing above their city rivals in La Liga, it is clear that things have changed. This consensus is reinforced by all four Spanish sides getting past the group stage of the champions’ league as well as three getting to the quarter finals. A special mention must go to Malaga as their efforts in Europe have been exceptional considering they have been forced to sell their best players due to their poor financial situation. Their performance against Dortmund where they were literally seconds away from reaching the semi-finals is truly remarkable all things considered.
The days of Italian football dominating the UEFA competitions seem to be long gone. Inter are a shadow of the Mourinho team that won an unprecedented treble, AC are going through a seemingly never ending transitional spell and the likes of Napoli and Lazio are likely to lose their quality players rather than add to them. Juventus have done well considering their significant fall from grace not too long ago. They bounced back from Serie B, made the shrewd acquisition of Pirlo and are once again the team to beat in Italy. They also did well in their return to European football, but Juventus alone cannot compensate for the poor display from Italian clubs year after year.
It would however be naive to assume that Italian football won’t bounce back and end up being overtaken by France and Portugal as Serie A possess some of the best coaches in Europe, a fantastic catchment of quality players and the means to keep their quality with money and stature. With no disrespect to French and Portuguese football, they are likely to continue to struggle to keep hold of their best players as their neighbouring leagues have the means to offer more money and continental success. PSG in France are bucking the trend with their Qatari wealth and major stride in the Champions’ league this year, but like Juventus in Italy, they can’t challenge rival leagues on their own.
German football has come a long way from the days when only Bayern real made an impact in Europe. Now they boast two major European forces in Munich and Dortmund as well as a few other clubs which possess genuine potential. Clubs such as Schalke, and Leverkusen have massive stadiums, the support to frequently fill them and the infrastructure/organization to achieve their big ambitions. And unlike their EPL rivals, they seem to know how to balance their books. It is also becoming apparent that there are a great number of top German born players that the league have at their disposal which can perhaps match the talent of the Spaniards in the not too distant future.
The coefficient table acknowledges the German progress but it seems unfair that the Bundesliga is so far behind the EPL when one compares the success of German clubs to the failure of English clubs in Europe this year. It can however be argued that the Germans have some way to go to catch up with the EPL in terms of sheer wealth and therefore ability to attract the biggest players. But however one looks at it and despite the self-imposed financial handicap it is clear that the Germans are on the rise wile English clubs are on the decline.
Looking at the current order of European football it is clear that money is not everything, it is obviously important as footballers are workers like anyone else and will almost always opt for the bigger wage in deciding where they go. But considering the pathetic display from Manchester City it is clear that the money needs to be managed and spend effectively, otherwise it can work as a hindrance. England will always have the lure of money, and money will never fail to attract the top talent as in any other industry. But as city showed being able to buy the best players does not mean you will have the best team.
What the Germans have done is play to their strengths, looked to their extensive league system to find talent, produce good coaches which produces good teams. These factors combined with how well supported and lucrative German clubs are becoming indicate that they are more than able to overtake English clubs. And the evidence is in the pudding with the last four in the champions’ league being German and Spanish clubs. Italy will bounce back as their clubs are simply too well supported as well as possessing global brands that the likes of Dortmund, PSG and Manchester City have some way to match. Bayern on the other hand with an alleged 200million euro transfer kitty, a true great in Guadiola to arrive to manage an already major European force look by far the most likely side to match or even exceed the legendary Barcelona.
So overall the UEFA coefficient table does represent the current order of European football with Spain topping the table and German/English football close behind. But The Germans have the right to resent being in third place with the English needing to take their poor display in Europe as a reality check and ensure they do much better next year. Italy are rightly fourth but are greatly undervalued as a league and are likely to catch up with the top leagues rather than fall behind in the coming years.
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