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Champions League – An Exclusive Club?

Champions League, An Exclusive Club

Have you noticed how some teams are always in the Champions League, year after year?  I decided to look a bit closer and a worrying trend has appeared over the past ten years.

In most European leagues only 2-3 clubs will ever win their domestic title.

Think about it.  In the England, only 4 clubs have ever won the Premier League title and the 4th club, Blackburn Rovers, only won it once, back in 1995.  Look around the other leagues in Europe and you will find a similar trend.

In England we have often sniggered at Scotland and how only Celtic or Rangers can win the SPL, but the rest of Europe seems to have caught up with this.  In France, Lyon won the title 7 years in a row.  In the Netherlands, PSV has won 7 of the past 12 titles and in Italy, Inter won Serie A 5 times in a row.  In Spain, either Barcelona and/or Real Madrid have finished in the top 2 every season for the past 10 years.

Possibly the worst example is Croatia.  It is 9 years since a club other than Dinamo Zagreb or Hajduk Split has won the title.  Only 3 clubs, other than those two, have managed to finish 2nd in the past 10 years and no club has managed that feat more than once.

Although, Scotland pushes them close, as Celtic and Rangers have won every one of the past 26 league titles. There has only been one occasion in the past 13 seasons where a club other than those two has finished as high as 2nd.

The reason for this?  Champions League money and tv revenue.

For example, in Spain the winner of La Liga receives prize money 19 times the amount of the lowest paid club.  In England, the difference is less than 2 times.  For example, in 2009/10 when Chelsea won the title they received 65m euros. Portsmouth (who finished bottom) earned an amount equivalent to 60% of that figure.  (Deloitte – Football Money League 2011)

In Italy, the difference between the tv revenue the champions receive and the bottom club gets is 10 times (source – GMG)

Michel Platini is concerned about the riches within English clubs, but he could do with looking a little closer to home.

In the French league, Lyon has finished in the top 3 in every one of the past 13 seasons.  Yet, before Champions League money, they were nowhere.  Even in places like Bulgaria where Levski Sofia has finished in the top 2 in every one of the past 10 seasons, you see examples of the top places being occupied by the same clubs each year.

Nearly every European League is dominated by just a couple of clubs.  If you’ve been following my ‘A Moment in Time’ series, you will gradually see how the top positions in English football keep changing.  I agree the period I’m covering is when Liverpool were the dominant club and won the majority of the titles, but they rarely had the same club challenging them season after season.

At the start of every season you didn’t really know who the top 4 teams would be, but if you had your last £10 and were asked to predict the top 2 for next season, would you really go for anyone other than the two Manchester clubs?

In England, between 1975 and 1992 10 different teams finished in 2nd place during those 17 seasons.  In 19 seasons of the Premiership, just 7 different clubs have finished 2nd, with just 4 different clubs managing that feat over the past 14 seasons.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe football was better back then.  Football, as an overall package, is such as vastly superior product these days than it was 20-30 years ago.  It’s better for the fans, the players and the clubs (even Portsmouth), in terms of playing conditions, wages, and the general spectator experience, either in the ground or on TV.

But if you’re a club other than the privileged few in Europe, then you have no hope of winning the title, unless you can find a rich Arab.  Let’s face it Manchester City would be nowhere near the top echelons of the Premier League without Sheikh Mansoor.

Is this something we all have to accept?  If we demand a product such as Champions League football, and are quite happy to watch it take over the domestic game, can we really be too surprised if players migrate towards the clubs who compete in that competition?

In England, you increasingly hear of supporters who would rather watch club football, especially Champions League, than the international game.  You could argue that games involving Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United or Inter Milan, will include more world class players than a World Cup Final between Spain and Netherlands.

In our endless pursuit of perfection, is this not an inevitable consequence?

One thing surely without dispute, is that the equality in TV revenue distribution in the Premier League provides more exciting matches between sides from the bottom half of the table than it would in Spain, France or Italy.

But then, if we didn’t have 92 league clubs to look after, maybe more money would go to the bigger clubs.  Have you ever watched a game from the Italian Third Division?

The following table covers the last 10 years. The last column shows the club who has won most titles during that period

Obviously, I am not suggesting the Bulgarian and Croatian leagues are on a par with Spain, Italy or England, they’re merely there by way of comparison.  But Spain, Italy and England would all claim to have more competitive leagues than either Bulgaria or Croatia, but maybe things are changing.  The German Bundesliga is in stark comparison with the other major European Leagues as more clubs seem to be in with a chance of winning the title, and a lot of the reason for that can be linked to their more equal financial distribution.

It’s difficult to be certain whether the Bulgarian league has been affected by Champions League money, although Litex Lovech, winners of the past 2 titles, has managed to break the domination of CSKA and Levski Sofia.  Champions League money each year is going to help them maintain that control.

But in Croatia, it looks almost impossible now to challenge Hadjuk Split or Dinamo Zagreb, as those clubs get richer every season, at the expense of the rest of the league.

Scotland is possibly the worst example in Europe. Celtic and Rangers have won every one of the past 26 league titles. There has only been one occasion in the past 13 seasons where a club other than those two has finished as high as 2nd.


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One thought on “Champions League – An Exclusive Club?

  1. Robson’s Ipswich and Clough’s Forest are, i agree, things of the past. I also agree as a spectacle football is a different experience to that of yesteryear, but the skill of building a squad of slightly less than perfect footballers and gelling them into a continent beating machine is, I’m afraid, the stuff of history books.

    Even at lower levels money still talks. Look at Crawley at the moment. Possibly the only chance we may have of seeing another Wimbledon although, without finance, i imagine they would still be mid table in the conference.

    Chris Powell has done what the likes of Clough and Robson did before, although at a lower level, and built his squad on a shoestring at Charlton. We too will find the lack of folding stuff a big hurdle next season though should we gain promotion.

    I agree with club supporters not really caring about international football. I however rarely watch european competitions either. I’d quite happily watch Southend vs Hereford over Inter vs Real Madrid any day.
    Considering Charlton’s recent history it’s a good job too!

    One of my suggestions, and don’t laugh, is to give a UEFA cup (or whatever it’s called now) place to the winners of the Jonstone’s Paint Trophy.
    It would give a little revenue to the winners, a club that would really need it, not to mention a lot more meaning to the competition in whole making it more competitive.
    The Irish and Welsh that get a spot wouldn’t be of much different quality and we don’t say they aren’t worthy of mixing it with some of the lesser european opponents.
    In my opinion that would be better idea than, say, allowing the premier league’s fair play winners a european place.

    But what do i know……..

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