Statistically Ranking the World's Top 20 Football Leagues
Surely a pub league punter or two has spent an afternoon making a case for which World Football League is the best (most quality, most competitive, etc.). Professional prognosticators have logged considerable airtime on the subject as well.
Whether you're Warren Barton or Joe Liverpud, most cognizant fans of the sport would agree that much of the world's elite talent tends to reside in La Liga, the EPL, the Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1 or the Brasileirão.
Conventional wisdom has placed a premium on these six leagues but rarely do we hear any statistical framework in support. Fans of teams outside the Big Six would probably like to know how their leagues stack up globally as well.
With this set of ideas in mind, your gentle narrator has devised a layman's statistical quotient (working title, the M.F. Coefficient) using Elo-styled rankings for each team within their domestic league. Using data culled from the fabulous footballdatabase.com, we've assigned a raw ranking for 20 of the world's top leagues.
Our number-crunching here amounts to a simple baseline; no proofs, algorithms or slide rules necessary. Mathematicians and scientists probably want to see a formula, but it's a simple process—total the points for the teams from each league and divide by 15.
Your first question: Why 15?
Most of the top leagues have at least 20 teams.
Some solid leagues like the UPL (Ukraine), the K-League and the SPL (Scotland) have as few as 16 teams. We wanted to give these leagues some consideration so this survey would be as robust as possible.
There's an alternate set of data that only includes leagues with 20 or more teams, but that's another conundrum for another dreary winter day.
We're well-aware our exacting readers will have some constructive ideas on this subject. Perhaps a bona fide statistician will help us refine the concept.
But we don't.
So we'll just let this set of integers do the talking for now with a small sidebar per each mention.
20. Peruvian Primera Division
Yeah, we're not going to pretend we know much about Peruvian Football (Jefferson Farfan does still play for FC Schalke, as far as we know). We assume Sporting Cristal is the cream of the crop, according to the numbers and imagery...
19. Romania's Liga I
Steaua Bucuresti won a European title in 1985-86. CFR Cluj seems to be the best club in Romania at the present time.
18. Superleague Greece
Olympiakos, PAOK and Panathinaikos make up the bulk of the Grecian Formula.
17. Uruguayan Primera Division
We've heard Penarol is pretty good, apparently Defensor Sporting is none too shabby, either. Wonder what Montevideo is like this time of year.
16. Colombia's Categoria Primera A
15. Belgian Pro League
Belgium has a top footballing export in Eden Hazard. Clubs like Anderlecht, Genk and Club Brugge give the Pro League top 15 status.
14. Czech Republic's Gambrinus Liga
Champions League and Europa League perennials Viktoria Plzen and Sparta Prague give the Czech league some gravitas on this list.
13. Ukranian Premier League
The UPL is on the rise thanks to Shakthar Donetsk's berth in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Metalist, Dynamo Kyiv and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk also rank in the 1600 range.
12. Turkish Süper Lig
Apparently, Galatasaray versus Fenerbache is some tiny rivalry or something. Galatasaray's recent qualification for the Champions League's last 16 improved their ranking considerably.
11. Mexico's Liga MX
C.F. Monterrey is the elite club from this league as evidenced by their recent third place finish at the FIFA Club World Cup.
10. Russian Premier League
The Russian Premier League might have reached its zenith a couple of years ago, but there's still plenty of rubles flooding into clubs like Zenit St. Petersburg, CSKA Moscow and Anzhi Makhachkala.
9. Portugal's Liga ZON Sagres
We're getting into familiar territory as we hit single digits. FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon are clubs known the world over.
8. Dutch Eredivisie
The Dutch League started getting picked clean during the Cruyff, Gullit and Van Basten eras. Ajax and PSV Eindhoven still have class, with Feyenoord and FC Twente not too far behind.
7. Argentina's Primera Division
While Boca Juniors and River Plate are Argentina's two most famous clubs, these days Velez Sarsfield and Lanus are more likely to win the league title.
Here we have a point of contention with the tightest margin between rankings. The Brazilian league brims with quality from top to bottom as Corinthians proved in their 1-0 win over Chelsea in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Numbers are a bit misleading in this case and perhaps next month's assessment will launch this league into the top five.
5. France's Ligue 1
Only eight hundredths of a point separates Ligue 1 from the Brasileirão. In our tabulation of the top 20 teams from both leagues, the Brasileirão maintains the advantage (1556.19 to 1553.06).
Paris Saint-Germain (1797) is the breadwinner here with Lyon over a hundred points behind.
4. Italian Serie A
Though the league continues to fall from grace, massive clubs Juventus and AC Milan are strong enough to garner Serie A with a place in the top four.
3. German Bundesliga
The Bundesliga is trending upwards for the time being with Bayern Munich's lofty 1903.79 rating and a Borussia Dortmund side that has climbed into the elite level.
2. Barclays English Premier League
And then there were two.
We've seen English football fans go off over far less, but strictly based on the numbers, the EPL rests in the penultimate position in our survey.
In terms of top-to-bottom competitive play (an intangible measurement), we'd agree with our English friends that their league is at the top.
Despite the scores for Manchester United, Manchester City and, to a lesser extent, Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton and Tottenham, the main room of world football's presidential palace is occupied by...
1. Spain's La Liga
You guessed it.
La Liga takes the top spot by a rather slim margin (1.87 points), but a margin nonetheless. La Liga simply has the two best clubs in the world by the numbers (Real Madrid and Barcelona), with strong sides like Atletico Madrid and Malaga waiting in the wings.
We just did the math. Fill in the blanks as you see fit.