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Sunday, October 11, 2015

EPL is the toughest league in Europe?

Here's a possible answer to the question, "is the English Premier League the most competitive in the world?" I think one way to answer the question is to see how many clubs have won European competitions in the past. And it turns out that many English clubs have won these prizes in the past. Some of the names might surprise you: West Ham. Ipswich. Nottingham Forest. Newcastle. Even Manchester City.

Yes, there are reasons why so many English clubs have had pedigree compared to other nations. English football has been around for longer. It's only relatively recently that other European nations have risen to the fore: Portuguese and Italian clubs in the 60s, German and Dutch clubs in the 70s, Spanish clubs (other than Real Madrid) and East European / Russian clubs in the 80s. Also, English football is better suited to cup competitions. At least on a club level in the 1980s, it was just so difficult for clubs from other countries to deal with the English. One wonders why the English national team was so crappy in the 70s and 80s. Perhaps has to do with the fact that Liverpool's best players were Scottish, and perhaps to do with the fact that English coaches were lousy.

But you can see that there are a high number of clubs outside the elite who have some European pedigree, compared to other countries who have a small elite who are very good at winning European prizes, but there's not a lot of depth. Of course, in the last 10 years, other than Chelsea, English clubs have been terrible at the Europa league, which has been dominated by the Spanish and the Russians. But clubs with European pedigree will attract foreign investors, which would explain why Chelsea, Manchester City and Aston Villa have had foreign investors.

So that's the thing about the English league. Not all teams who have won cups in Europe are in the top league. And not all the dark horses outside the elite have Europe pedigree (ie Southampton, Swansea). But England is a place where it is possible for many clubs to have a comfortable mid-table existence for a few years, although not forever, as the fates of Portsmouth, Derby and Wimbledon have shown us.

Also, another thing you notice about this list is how much the map of Europe has changed. The only Czechoslovakian team to have won a prize is now in Slovakia, divorced from the Czech republic. There were clubs from the former USSR who are now in Ukraine and Georgia. There are clubs from Serbia and Croatia who won prizes while they were part of Yugoslavia.

So here's the paradox. When you have a strong league, chances are, you will have more of your clubs winning medals in Europe. But then after that your league will be crowded with former winners and it will be more competitive, to the point where every other match is against a former European champion. Then your players are all tired out and can't perform on European nights. Unless you are a superclub. And honestly, there is effectively an ogilopoly at the top of the Champion's league at the moment. We used to have a state of affairs for 7-8 years in the English premier league where the top 4 teams which always got the UCL places were Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd and Arsenal. Now there's real competition for these 4 places. In the last 5-6 seasons, 2 or 3 of the semi-finalists in the UEFA champion's league will be one of: Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. So there is a case to say that English clubs have been underperforming in Europe and there's a real possibility that they will very soon lose their fourth UCL place. Also, say what you want about the UCL being competitive because nobody has ever won it twice in a row since AC Milan in 1990. Fact is that getting into the semi-finals 5 years in a row is very very doable. It's only about who goes on to win it.

Here's the list. As you can see, I've "cheated" a little but considering the Inter-city Fairs club as a European competition.

England (13)
Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Ipswich, Leeds , Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester Utd, Newcastle, Nottingham Forest, Tottenham, West Ham, Everton

Germany (9)
Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hamburger SV, Magdeburg, Schalke 04, Werder Bremen

Italy (9)
AC Milan, Fiorentina, Inter Milan, Juventus, Lazio, Napoli, Parma, Roma, Sampdoria

Spanish (6)
Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, Zaragoza

Portugal (3)
Benfica, Porto, Sporting Lisbon

Netherlands (3)
Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord

Scotland (3)
Aberdeen, Celtic, Rangers

France (2)
Paris Saint Germain, Olympique Marseilles

Russia (2)
CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg

Ukraine (2)
Shaktar Donetsk, Dynamo Kiev

Belgium (2)
Anderlecht, Mechelen

Serbia (1)
Red Star Belgrade

Romania (1)
Steaua Bucharest

Hungary (1)

Croatia (1)
Dinamo Zagreb

Slovakia (1)
Slovan Bratislava

Georgia (1)
Dinamo Tbilisi

Turkey (1)