European Football: The Ultimate Oligarchy

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European Football: The Ultimate Oligarchy
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Every season starts the same way.

People make bold predictions regarding some underdog club breaking up the established hierarchy at the top of the Premier League. By the end of every season, those prophecies have failed to come true and the prognosticators go into hibernation for a few months, only to begin the process anew in time for the next season.

As exciting as the football is, the table at the end of the season just seems downright boring.

In America, we love to grumble about the big market teams oppressing the small market teams. For as much as we claim to love capitalism, we try to stay suspiciously close to parity.

Our system of having the big guys stand on the throat of the little guys doesn't compare to the Premier League, or La Liga, or any of the major European leagues. By comparison, the established elite in any American league look like they could be toppled by a slight breeze.

Clubs like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox—and to a lesser extent, the Mets and Cubs—pride themselves on being the embodiment of the capitalist's dream. They've got piles of cash at their disposal and they aren't ashamed to spend lavishly in order to try and win a championship.

European clubs make those guys look like a bunch of talented amateurs. Sporting communists, even.

The Premier League was established in 1992, so that's where we'll begin our comparisons. I'll be using Major League Baseball as our comparison league because they're the only American sports league without a salary cap, just like European football leagues.

Since the inception of the EPL, only four clubs have managed to claim the league title. Those four clubs have claimed titles thanks to some serious financial resources.

Manchester United have been the most successful, with 11 Premier League titles. Arsenal come second place with three, Chelsea own two and Blackburn has a lone title, achieved thanks to the financial backing of Jack Walker.

In that same time span, ten different teams have hoisted a World Series trophy. Four of those teams have been the wild card seed in the playoffs—contestants that are supposedly slightly weaker than the rest of the playoff teams.

America's richest team—the New York Yankees—hasn't won a title since 2000. The New York Mets, who aren't exactly living close to the poverty line either, haven't won a title within our frame of analysis. The Chicago Cubs, another team that can afford to splash some cash, haven't even been to the World Series for over 60 years.

Ten different title winners since 1992 for Major League Baseball, compared to just four for the Premier League. It's a surprising figure because thanks to the lack of a salary cap, MLB has the same rich-poor disparity that we see in top European leagues.

Things are slightly more competitive in La Liga. Since 1992, Barcelona has seven titles, Real Madrid has six, Valencia has two, and Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruña have one apiece. That's five different title winners, and there isn't a huge discrepancy between first and second place on that list like you find in English football.

The Bundesliga gets more competitive yet, but it still doesn't approach MLB. Since 1992, Bayern Munich has nine titles, Borussia Dortmund has three, Werder Bremen has two, and Kaiserslauten, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg have one title apiece. Six titles winner, but it's a very top-heavy list with Munich winning more than the other five combined.

Ligue 1 is more of the same. We'll include the 1992-1993 title that was stripped from Olympique Marseille due to a match-fixing scandal. Lyon come in first with seven titles—all of them consecutive. They are followed by Nantes, Bordeaux and Monaco with two each. Lens, Auxerre and Marseille have a single title during that time period. Seven different winners with Lyon taking home the bulk of the silverware.

While nobody is debating that the football on display is exciting, the final tables are remarkably predictable. It's a rare occasion when an underdog is able to upset the established order.

It goes to show how incredibly difficult it is to break into the upper echelons of European football. Clubs like Leeds and Newcastle have spent extravagantly and failed to even remain in the top flight. Everton is very well coached and has a quality squad, but they have only managed a brief appearance in the top four.

It's exciting football, but if you're searching for a dramatic title chase, you're betting off looking elsewhere.

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