Ask someone to give you the first words that come to mind when you mention Brazilian soccer. Most likely the response include some of the worlds best ever players, Brazil's dominance as the most successful nation in the World Cup and so on.
Now ask someone the same question with regards to England, Spain and Italy. More than likely the response will include answers such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Juventus, Milan, Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
To the masses worldwide Brazilian soccer consists of some of the greatest players in history along with countless international trophies. To the masses inside Brazil the story is much, much different. National team games are a celebration, a place for the entire country to root for one team, one cause and one goal. However internally, it is much more than that. It is written in the soul of millions upon millions of extremely loyal as well as extremely demanding fans from birth. It is part of daily life for all Brazilians, it is a way to identify yourself amongst others in a crowd. Hell, the day my mother told her father she had just met a man, who would later become my father, the first question out of his mouth wasn't what is his name? It wasn't what does he do? It wasn't is he a good guy. It was is he a Corinthiano? (Corinthiano is the name given to fans of S.C. Corinthians Paulista).
The system in Brazil is not like any other league in the world. Each state inside of Brazil holds its own league, allowing only teams from inside the proper state to participate. These include Paulista (Sao Paulo) Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) as well as others. Many of these began just after the turn of the 20th century with the Paulista being the first league held in Brazil beginning in 1902. For many a reason it was not until 1971 that the actual Campeonato Brasileiro as we know it came into existence.
There has been one thing in common each year up until this season, the 40th Campeonato Brasileiro, no one has a clue who will win. Seasons are so unpredictable it is astonishing. No other league in the world matches up to its ability to surprise the fans.
I want to make one thing clear right away, I am saying the Brazilian league is the hardest to win in the world. I am not saying it contains the best talent in the world but so many of the best players in Europe have come and will continue to come out of Brazil in a constant stream of athletic outsourcing.
When comparing the numbers from Brazil against the worlds best leagues it becomes clearly obvious that indeed Brazil contains the most unpredictable league in the world. I wont even make a mention of European teams coming and plucking away the top players each and every year, not after the season, but in the middle of it. That fact alone is noteworthy because no other country suffers the same fate. Sure players leave teams for others in Europe but they also leave behind millions to be invested into new players, be it from Brazil or anywhere else in the world. Players come from Europe to play in Brazil in only two circumstances: They are too old and want to finish playing back home and players who did not meet expectations in Europe who then become loans to Brazilian clubs in an effort to salvage the millions the European clubs spend for him.
Now the numbers
La Liga: Initial season in 1929, this year marks the 78th season (there was a break from 1936-1939 due to civil war) and in these 78 long years Spain has seen its share of amazing talent. They have also seen a lot of the same things, over and over again. The nations top 2 clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, have won a combined 50 La Liga crowns. That is 64% of the time one of these two teams lifts the trophy at the end of the season. Recent history continues to back up the consolidated hold place on the title by the two giants. In the past 20 seasons, Madrid or Barca took the title 16 times, a big jump to 80% success rate compared to the overall 64% they have enjoyed in the last 78 years. Even more surprising, there have only been 9 teams to ever win La Liga, 3 of them winning one sole trophy.
The EPL is actually even more consolidated to the major clubs in England. Starting back from 1992, the first EPL season, only Blackburn Rovers has nudged its way alongside the top English clubs. In its 18 years the EPL has seen just 4 winners, Blackburn (1), Chelsea (3), Arsenal (3) and Manchester United (11). That's a 94% of titles held by the top clubs in England, without even mentioning the fact that Liverpool has still yet to win an EPL crown.
In Serie A control at the top remains as strong as ever. With its initial season in the current format being 1929, Italy has seen its top flight soccer league ruled by the big three, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. 75% of titles in the 81 year history of Serie A have been taken by the very same trio, Juventus (27), AC Milan (17) and Inter Milan (17) including 18 of the last 20 titles.
Now on to the Campeonato Brasileiro and its always entertaining and surprising abundance of talent spread through more champions than anywhere in Europe. Note: I am only including the current format in the Brazilian league which began in 1971.
Last week the 40th edition of the Brasileirao kicked off and promises not to disappoint the soccer lover. With more players than ever who have already made their mark through Europe's biggest clubs this season promises not to disappoint. 14 of this years 20 clubs in the top division have already laid claim to the title of Brazil's best, not to mention traditional teams such as Bahia, Coritiba and Sport who are fighting their way through Serie B in hopes of returning to their former glory. In all, 17 teams have been able to claim the title and quite honestly there are probably 17 teams this year alone who have a real shot of hoisting this seasons hardware. Only once in its history has a team won 3 titles in a row, Sao Paulo 2006-2008 and no one has yet to win 4 in a row, a feat accomplished in all European leagues (In England before formation of the EPL) If the lack of homogeneity in the champions doesn't influence your thoughts of how open each season is, on several occasions the number of teams participating has exceeded the now standard 20, including the biggest season in 1980 which included 104 teams from all over Brazil. 1978 had 74 clubs, 1979 had 96 clubs and the 1981-1983 seasons saw 88 clubs try for a shot at glory. There is no other place with such a diverse soccer population with so much of the rich success that so many clubs in Brazil have in their history.
Think the comparison is unfair? Are you saying these teams can not be better than Europe's top clubs? Take a look at the list of World Club Champions, both intercontinental and FIFA World Club Cup, and it may surprise you. World wide, Brazil has the most teams who have been world Champions 6 so far with 9 trophies. Italy has just 3 teams who can claim to be champions of the world along with Spain. England, the nation with the richest league, has a mere 1 champion, less than Holland, Germany, Uruguay and Argentina and no more than Portugal, Paraguay and Yugoslavia. This includes 3 teams, Corinthians in 2000, Sao Paulo in 2005 and Internacional in 2006 who took home the FIFA World Club trophy. On a side note, the 2000 FIFA World Club Championship was the first and only tournament so far to include 2 clubs from Europe, in that occasion it was Manchester United and Real Madrid. In this instance the two European giants watched the world final, which contained two Brazilian teams in the final, Corinthians and Vasco da Gama.
So there you have it, the most balanced, most intriguing league is the Brasileirao. There's no if or buts about it.