Strongest Division in Europe
It’s generally accepted that the top four divisions in European football are: England, Spain, Germany, and Italy.
UEFA calculates weightings (coefficients) of the top leagues in Europe every two years.
According to Wikipedia, “This coefficient is determined by the results of the clubs of the leagues in UEFA Champions League and Europa League games over the past five seasons”.
Thus, the coefficient is a measure of average strength of a league over the past five seasons. The drawback to this method is that it may not be indicative of the current strength of a league. That said, it’s a decent barometer for determining league strength.
The current rankings for 2010-2011 are:
England – 13.642
Germany – 13.166
Spain – 12.214
Italy – 10.857
While the order of the top four has changed over the last five years, the leagues generally have not.
One exception was in 2008-2009 when Ukraine had the strongest league in Europe (a full 1.625 points ahead of England). The next four predictably were: England, Spain, Germany, and Italy. Another exception occurred in 2007-2008 when Russia sneaked ahead of Italy for the fourth spot.
Germany is an interesting case. It finished sixth in the rankings back in 2006-2007, behind Romania and France. Since then however, it has remained one of the top four leagues in Europe. France, Portugal, and Russia are the next three leagues knocking on the door.
While we can debate which league is the strongest, I think most fans will concede that these four leagues are the best in Europe.
Messi, Ronaldo, or Tevez: Who's Really the Best Goalscorer in Europe?
Stats can be deceiving. If we look at the current Premier League statistics for goals scored, we see Carlos Tevez second on the list (behind Dimitar Berbatov) with 10 goals. That’s an impressive statistic because the Premier League is arguably the strongest league in the world.
Turning to Germany, we see that Theofanis Gekas of Eintracht Frankfurt has 14 Bunesliga goals. Surely no one considers him a better goalscorer than Tevez. Gekas plays in a weaker league so his performance should be discounted somewhat when comparing him with players in stronger leagues.
What I wanted to do then was weigh goal scoring output by the strength of the league.
In that way, I could standardize the goals scored to compare everyone on the same level. I simply added the UEFA coefficients above for the top four leagues and divided them by the total to get the weight (or strength) of that league relative to the others in the top four.
Here are the top 10 goalscorers in Europe (weighted for strength of division):
1. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (tied with 4.2 points)
2. Theofanis Gekas (3.7)
3. Papiss Demba Cisse (3.4)
4. Mario Gomez (3.2)
5. Dimitar Berbatov (3.0)
6. Srjdan Lakic (2.9)
7. Carlos Tevez, Andy Caroll, David Villa (2.7)
8. Edin Dzeko (2.6)
9. Tim Cahill (2.5)
10. Nilmar, Fernando Llorente, Raul, Hugo Almeida, Didier Ya Konan, Andre Schurrle (2.4)
A couple of observations:
- There was no representative from Italy. The best scores in Italy came from Antonio Di Natale and Edinson Cavani with 2.2 points.
- The Bundesliga was represented by nine players. I believe this indicates not only the strength of the Bundesliga (currently the second highest UEFA coefficient in Europe behind England), but also the parity between players. There may be no Messi or Ronaldo, but there are a lot of quality players that can score.
- The Premier League was represented by only four players despite being the strongest league. It makes sense however that there are fewer goals scored in a stronger league with stiffer competition week in and week out.
- Spain was represented by five players, most notably Messi and Ronaldo who tied for first. Even though Spain currently ranks as only the third strongest league, Messi and Ronaldo have scored so many more goals than everyone else in Europe that their output was enough to overcome the relative lack of strength of La Liga.
This is by no means a definitive study on this sort of thing. The statistics required for an in-depth study would be beyond my abilities. That said, I think this is good for two reasons.
First, it standardizes the goals scored in order to compare players across leagues more equally. Secondly, the math is simple and it highlights some players you may not have noticed before.
What do you think? Let me know if you have issues with the methodology and I’ll be happy to talk about it.
Quick disclaimer: This list is not meant to illustrate quality of players. It also only represents goals scored so far in domestic leagues this season.
It does not include: Champions League, Europa League, World Cup, Friendlies, or Cup Competitions.
Just because Papiss Demba Cisse ranks higher than David Villa or Carlos Tevez on this list doesn’t mean I think he is a better player. I’d take Villa or Tevez over most guys in the world!
The list is meant to illustrate the quality of goals scored.
If there were a player who had 25 goals so far in MLS no one would care because we all know that MLS is much weaker than these leagues. So I think the strength of the league a player plays in should be a factor in determining how impressed we are with his goal scoring.