Manchester_United_Premier_League_Champions_20_863950 It is still early days in the different European football competitions. In most cases we are not even halfway yet. Nevertheless speculating in the different countries on who will become the league champion has already started again. In most leagues the usual suspects are being mentioned, no surprise really….However, in some leagues there seem to be some new kids on the block. Whether it is FC Twente in The Netherlands, Sporting Braga in Portugal, Odense in Denmark or Bayern Leverkusen in Germany, all are relatively new to the art of winning their league, but all these teams are currently in the lead. The odds (as we will see) are against and I’ll bet you that in the end quite a few of these exotics will not realize their dream, at least not during this season.

Competitive balance in Europe appears to be far away. It seems to be a fairytale that leagues in the different European countries are highly competitive, they are not. Ask someone who will become champion in Spain? Nine out of ten will answer Real Madrid or Barcelona. So they should, as during the last 25 years the two of them won the national times 21 times out of 25. It can even be worse; Celtic and Rangers in Scotland have won 24 out of the last 25 times. In most leagues it is not significantly different. Clearly there is competition within the league but predictability on who will become champion is relatively large

  Number of times being league winner         Clubs having won
Country Best club 2nd best club Third best club Top 1 Top 2 Top 3 the league
Austria Austria Wien: 8x Rapid Wien: 5x Salzburg: 5x 32% 52% 72% 7
Belgium Anderlecht: 12x Brugge: 7x Genk: 2x, Standard: 2xx 48% 76% 84% 5
Denmark Brondby: 10x Kopenhagen: 7x Aalborg 3x 40% 68% 80% 8
England Manch. United: 11x Arsenal: 5x Liverpool: 3x 44% 64% 76% 7
France Lyon: 7x Olympique Mars: 5x Bordeaux: 4x 28% 48% 64% 8
Germany Bayen Munich: 14x Dortmund: 3x Werder Bremen: 3x 56% 68% 80% 6
Greece Olympiakos: 13x Panathinaikos: 6x AEK: 4x 52% 76% 92% 5
Iceland Akranes: 6x Reykjavik: 5x Hafnarfjordur 5x 24% 44% 64% 8
Italy AC Milan: 8x Juventus: 6x Inter Milan: 5x 32% 56% 76% 8
Holland PSV: 14x Ajax: 8x Feyenoord: 2x 56% 88% 96% 4
Norway Rozenborg: 18x Lillestrom: 2x 5 diff. teams each 1x 72% 80% 84% 7
Portugal Porto: 17x Benfica: 5x SC Portugal: 2x 68% 88% 96% 4
Scotland Rangers: 15x Celtic: 9x Aberdeen: 1x 60% 96% 100% 3
Spain Real Madrid: 11x Barcelona: 10x Valencia 2x 44% 84% 92% 5
Sweden Goteburg: 8x AIK: 3x Malmo 3x; Djurgard. 3x 32% 44% 56% 11
Switzerland Grasshoppers: 7x Basel: 4x Zurich: 3x; Servette: 3x 28% 44% 56% 10
Turkey Galatasaray: 11x Fenerbace: 7x Besiktas: 7x 44% 72% 100% 3
Average   45% 68% 80% 6.4

The table above summarizes how many times the best clubs have won their leagues during the last 25 years. One can see that Rosenborg from Norway is record holder in Europe: it has won the national title 18 times out of 25, closely followed by Porto, who won 17 times and Rangers, who won 15 times. The percentage columns tell it all; they are telling us on how many occasions during the last 25 years, the best 3 clubs in a certain country have seized the championship. So in Turkey and Scotland, things are really predictable. You are a pretty brave rascal if you are going to bet against either Galatasaray, Fenerbace or Besiktas of winning the league in Turkey. Besides these countries Portugal, Holland and Greece also score high on the predictability ladder. This is to say when looking at history and that is where the fun comes in. History is by no means a guarantee to the future as last year’s Dutch league winners AZ Alkmaar blatantly proved. AZ was the first league winner in 25 years outside the traditional top 3, PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord. Nevertheless, averaging the different European leagues, one can conclude that in about 80% of all cases, it is one of the traditional top 3 teams, which becomes league champion.

So which countries are giving us the biggest headaches upfront? Surely Sweden and Switzerland, where there have been 11 and 10 league winners respectively during the last 25 years. It is clearly difficult to predict the winners here, which must be fun. Hence in these smaller leagues competition seems to be more balanced. Let us briefly compare with American Football’s NFL. Looking over a period of 25 years, there have been 13 different winners, whilst the 3 best teams won the superbowl only 10 out of 25 times or 40%. The World Series Baseball even was won by 17 different teams over the last 25 years. Talking about competitive balance……. The reasons behind? I would not be surprised if it has anything to do with a phenomenon called salary cap……Food for thought I believe.

In the mean time, will the new kids on the block such as Twente, Braga, Odense and Leverkusen win their leagues this year? Never say never, but the odds are against. Do not forget they have not been in this position before; the closer one gets, the more difficult it becomes. Fighting for a national title will result in a different kind of pressure new to most of these teams. Surely there will be a surprise package somewhere, but I doubt whether all four of them will have this fortune.

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