Subject: Which league is most competitive? A Historical analysis
Date: 11 Dec 1997 03:53:25 GMT
From: (Marco Paserman)

It's been a few days that a lively debate has been going on in 
another thread, discussing the relative competitiveness of various
European leagues. Since this is  a topic that comes up quite often,
I thought that it would be a good idea to bring some statistics 
to illuminate us on the matter.

Economists have been long interested in the degree of competitiveness
in markets, and have devised several indices to measure competitiveness. The
Herfindahl, by far the most popular index of competitiveness, is simply
calculated by summing up the square of the market shares of the different
firms in a market, and multiplying by 100. This index takes on values
ranging from 100 (if the market is a monopoly) to 0 (if the market is 
perfectly competitive, i.e., if it has an infinite number of very small firms).

So I thought that it would be relatively easy to transfer this concept to
the world of football to measure the competitiveness of the various leagues.
The market share of a team in a particular league is simply the proportion
of national championships won by that team out of the total number of
championships played.

I calculated, based on the RSSSF archives (copyright, I guess), Herfindahl 
indices for some selected European leagues: Italy, England, Spain, Germany,
Scotland, Holland, Romania and Israel. The first four are pretty much the top
4 leagues in Europe, in terms of results, popularity, money, etc.
I included Scotland because it is a notoriously 2-team league, Holland
because it is also one of the top European leagues, Romania so as not to
be accused of western-eurocentrism, and because it is a league particularly
dear to the heart of an RSS poster who likes statistics, and Israel
because I also wanted to include a minor league (and because I lived there
5 years). I apologize to French, South American, and all other fans
who felt left out.

The results are as follows (number of championsips in brackets)

               All years             Post-war only

Italy            13.64 (95)               20.26 (51)
England           8.41 (98)               13.65 (51)
Spain            25.07 (66)               32.10 (51)
Germany           7.09 (84)               11.76 (50)
Scotland         34.22 (101)              31.41 (51)
Holland          12.29 (99)               22.41 (51)
Romania          12.09 (79)               24.11 (51)
Israel           17.22 (66)               15.97 (46)

The results show that we can roughly divide the selected leagues into three
groups: the highly competitive ones (England and Germany), the moderately
competitive ones (Italy, Holland, Romania, and Israel), and the very
concentrated ones (Scotland and Spain). This division is pretty consistent
over time. I was a bit surprised that Scotland didn't have an overwhelmingly
higher Herfindahl index in the post-war. Actually, they're even less concentrated 
than Spain.

Of course this doesn't mean that past history can help us predict future
developments. The English league is one of the most competitive, but 
Manchester United have won 4 championships in the last 5 years, and
they look set to conquer a fifth one. However, with some good will one
could argue that over the long run it could be expected that these trends
will be maintained, and that it's more likely that some "new" teams will
win the Championship in Germany than in Spain.

Hope this helps clearing the debate...

(if only I could get a Ph.D. in football-o-metrics)

Subject: Re: Italian decline? 
Date: 16 Jan 1998 05:08:54 GMT
From: (Marco Paserman)

> Cyber Sioux wrote:
> > Spain is improving because even the smaller clubs are
> > enjoying greater cash injections but I doubt whether
> > any club will be able to displace one of the two ever 
> > lasting rivals.
> > The only club I reckon with is Atletico.
>      The rises of Deportivo La Coruna and Real Betis were a surprise
> (6-7 years ago they were nobody, 3 to Betis), closing the gap with the
> big 3 ( consist big 2 and Atletico ). However, in a long run, Real
> Madrid and Barcelona will still remain far ahead of Atletico and
> everyone else.  

Interesting thread. But I think that some comments lack in historical 
perspective. Spain has seen several teams rise to the role
of occasional contenders to Madrid and Barca, but in terms of championship
victories, la Liga is the most concentrated, the least competitive, even
more so than Scotland, at least in the post-war period (the most
competitive league is Germany, followed closely by England; Holland and Italy
are somewhat in between these two countries and the duopolistic
Spain and Scotland).

Still, I would say that Spain has more strength in depth than Holland,
with teams like Zaragoza, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao all reaching
a European Cup final in the past 20 years)

>    I would say the Big 2 ( Juve and Milan ) *and* Inter. The reason is
> because Inter was regarded as a major force every year, but they never
> delivered. They are too strong to ignore, but not good enough to get
> passed Juve and Milan ... This year may be different, however.

Again, it all depends on the time period one looks at. If you had asked
me ten years ago today which were the two top teams in Italy, I would have
said Juve and Inter, without the shadow of a doubt.
As of 1987, Milan were only slightly better than Nottingham Forest.
Then Milan had a nine year spurt, and people are suddenly saying
that they are the greatest team in Italy, which is obviously total
bollocks. Maybe Inter now will have a ten year cycle, and
things will revert to what they were before.

Incidentally, an interesting historical fact about Italian competitiveness:
between 1950 and 1968, Juve, Milan and Inter won all but two italian championships
(the exceptions being Fiorentina in 1956 and Bologna in 1964). This 
was a league as concentrated as one could be. 

Then, from 1969 to 1991, 11 different teams won the scudetto, including total
newcomers such as Cagliari, Lazio, Verona, Sampdoria and Napoli, as well as Roma,
Torino, Fiorentina and the big three.

Now, it looks as if things have reverted to the '50s and '60s trend, with 
Juve and Milan monopolizing the championship race in the '90s, and Inter looking
very likely to grab at least one title by the end of the decade.

Finally, the same historical perspective should be applied to the 
supposed Italian decline in European competition. Let's not forget
that Italy had two finalists last year, one of them beaten on penalties,
and both considered strong favorites before the games were played.
Similarly, Germany had not had an EC1 finalist since 1987. A bit early
to talk of renewed German domination, even if results up to now
this year seem to confirm this trend.

Subject: Most competitive leagues? Update for France, Argentina and Uruguay
Date: 16 Jan 1998 17:00:22 GMT
From: (Marco Paserman) (Karel Stokkermans) writes:
>I still think you should have included France in the comparison :).  I think
>they'd end up to be more competitive than Germany.  Five different champions
>in five seasons, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Metz making it six...
OK. Following great popular demand (and a bad mood for doing any work), I made
another trip to the RSSSF archives and updated my Herfindahl indices of
competitiveness to include France (professional championships only), Argentina
(professional national championships only: if somebody can explain what the hell
the metropolitano was, I'll be glad to listen) and Uruguay. 
I apologize to Brazilian fans, but the time span for the national championship is
too short, and I didn't want to be unfair to any particular state (besides, I think
it was more interesting to look at the top two leagues in South America first :-)

So the complete table is now:

                 All time          Post WW-II
Germany           7.09                11.76
England           8.41                13.65
France           10.31                12.13
Romania          12.09                24.11
Holland          12.29                22.41
Italy            13.64                20.26
Israel           17.22                15.97
Argentina        17.24                15.08
Spain            25.07                32.10
Scotland         34.22                31.41
Uruguay          35.76                39.12

Remember that low values of the index indicate more competitive leagues.
I would say that the post WW-II index is more reliable as it is based
on a more or less equal number of championships. In any case, 
France is not more competitive than Germany, although it comes close.
(You can never beat the Germans, Karel, you should know by now.. :-(
The Argentinian league is fairly competitive, but the concentrated league
par excellence is Uruguay, where Penarol and Nacional have taken home more
than 80% of the total titles, and more than 85% of the post war ones.
That becomes even more impressive if you exclude the revolutionary 1987-1991 
period, when the smaller teams won the championship 5 times in a row.

For futbolmetrics fans: I will soon post the conclusive study on
the "red card effect". This will finally settle the question 
of whether Portugal was truly robbed of its WC spot this year because
of the Batta/Rui Costa incident, and whether Pagliuca was wise
in bringing down that Norwegian in 1994.

Subject: Re: Most competitive leagues?
Date: 16 Jan 1998 19:55:06 GMT
From: marcelo@apollo.HP.COM (Marcelo Weinberger)

Karel Stokkermans writes:
> The Metropolitano was actually the real championship (in the years a
> Metropolitano and a Nacional was played).  The Metropolitano was a
> league (with most teams from Greater Buenos Aires but this hasn't
> changed significantly since), while the Nacional was essentially a
> cup tournament without promotion/relegation or anything.

Although the name Metropolitano indeed indicates teams from the Great
Buenos Aires metropolitan area only, there were traditionally 6 teams
from outside this area: Colon and Union of Santa Fe (although sometimes
they played in the second division), Central and Newell's from Rosario,
and Estudiantes and Gimnasia y Esgrima from La Plata (although La Plata
is quite close to the metropolitan area). These were the teams that
traditionally were part of the professional league started in 1931, and
the Nacional was an attempt to incorporate clubs from other parts of the
country, in particular Cordoba, which had clubs that at some point or
another in the seventies and eighties played at the highest level
(Talleres, Instituto with Ardiles and Kempes, Central). This was not a
cup tournament, but it was played in two groups. The main attraction was
that the winner, together with the winner of the Metropolitano,
qualified for the Libertadores. The tournament disappeared once the
clubs from outside the capital integrated in the overall professional
system. However, they mostly play in lower divisions (I'm surprised that
no clubs from Cordoba play in the first division). The only two
exceptions (besides the six traditional clubs that I pointed out) are
Gimnasia y Esgrima from Jujuy and Gimnasia y Tiro from Salta. However,
Huracan of Corrientes just recently was relegated, and a few seasons ago
there was another club from Corrientes, Mandiyu.

> > the concentrated league par excellence is Uruguay, where Penarol
> > and Nacional have taken home more than 80% of the total titles,
> > and more than 85% of the post war ones.

Well, if you consider the period between 1932 (first professional
championship) and 1975, then it's 100%! The first professional champion
among the smaller clubs was Defensor in 1976, and this was a big event!
However, this shouldn't come as a surprise: which other country
concentrates more than 20 supposedly professional clubs in a city of
1,300,000??? After all, Pen~arol and Nacional should be like Rosario
Central and Newell's, or Talleres and Instituto in Cordoba: these are
cities of comparable sizes. Moreover, you should see what most of the
other clubs (with the possible exception of Defensor Sporting) are:
basically neighborhood clubs. And it's a real miracle what they
accomplish in terms of growing talent. Just consider, Marco, that your
Juventus has two players (Zalayeta and Pellegrin) that grew up in
Danubio, the same club where Inter's Recoba and Martin Ribas grew up,
the same club where Ruben Sosa grew up, and the same club where Ruben
Da Silva (the top goalscorer of the last Apertura in Argentina) grew up!
Forget Ajax... come and see what Danubio, a team whose total annual
budget may be similar to one day's budget in Ajax, is!

One other remark about the skewdness in Uruguay: yes, in the last 20
years some other clubs emerged, but on the other hand one of the clubs
that was considered big and whose name I prefer not to write, won only
4 championships in the last quarter of a century!

Subject: Re: Argentine league (Was Re: Most competitive leagues?)
Date: 16 Jan 1998 22:13:39 GMT
From: marcelo@apollo.HP.COM (Marcelo Weinberger) writes:

> So if clubs from Rosario and Santa Fe could play in the Metropolitan
> Championship, why couldn't clubs from Cordoba or other provincial
> cities?

I guess that the answer is that in 1931 these clubs were not part of the
young professional system. However, I guess that they could have started
from a lower division and make their way up, so probably they were not
allowed. I don't know...
> Which championship was more prestigious, the Nacional or the
> Metropolitano?

Definitely the Metropolitano.
> Also, I was reading a book the other day on Argentine football, but I
> had trouble translating one particular part of it.  It was talking 
> about the traditional dominance of the big clubs (Boca, River, Racing,
> Independiente, and San Lorenzo) and how little clubs "ceded" them
> championships (I didn't know how else to translate it).  The particular
> situations involved Gimnasia y Esgrima in 1933 and Lanus and Banfield in
> later years (can't recall the exact dates, but one was in the '50's). 
> Can anyone tell me what happened?  

Browsing in an extract from "La Historia del Futbol Argentino" I found
one incident involving GyELP in 1933 which could be related to that. It

"San Lorenzo se clasifico campeon gracias al triunfo de River sobre Boca
en la ultima fecha del campeonato.  El suceso del a#o fue, sin embargo,
Gimnasia y Esgrima de La Plata, que se adjudico la primera rueda y fue
abiertamente perjudicado por algunos arbitrajes (especialmente en 
partidos contra Boca y San Lorenzo) y por una huelga de jugadores que
entraron en conflicto con los dirigentes del club. [...]

Los jugadores de GELP, convencidos de que el arbitro queria
perjudicarlos y malograr sus posibilidades, tomaron una decision inedita
en el futbol argentino: se sentaron en la cancha y dejaron el camino
libre para que los jugadores de San Lorenzo marcaran 5 goles mas antes
de que se interrumpiera el grotesto episodio."

This doesn't seem like GyELP gives the championship to San Lorenzo, but
rather, that the referee does it... The final table was:
San Lorenzo......50 points

As for Banfield and Lanus, it indeed says that they were one of the
best teams in 1951, but it doesn't mention anything suspicious. The only
strange thing is about the 1951 final between Racing and Banfield: it
"En ambos partidos de desempate, Grisatti reemplazo en el arco a Antonio
Rodriguez, arquero titular de Racing, quien adujo una lesion pues no
quiso enfrentarse con el deseo de Eva Peron, que esperaba la victoria de
So Banfield seems the one to be favored... The final table was:
Banfield............44 (Racing won the finals, 0-0 and 1-0)

Subject: Re: Argentine league (Was Re: Most competitive leagues?
Date: 20 Jan 1998 10:07:55 GMT
From: (Karel Stokkermans)

Afaik the first side from Cordoba to enter the Metropolitano was Talleres
in 1980, as winners of the Cordoban league.  In the next two years, Instituto
Cordoba and Racing (Cdb) followed, so in 1982 there were already 3 teams from
Cordoba in the Metropolitano.  I assume that before the eighties these teams
weren't considered worthy.  It's true they usually didn't make much of an
impression in the Nacional either, but in 1977 Talleres reached the final
and lost on away goals to Independiente; in 1980 Racing (Cdb) lost the final
versus Rosario Central.  I'd guess those performances caused a change in
The Metropolitano was also the starting point for the national league in 
1985 after the Nacional was discontinued.
[Thanks to Marcelo for the historical info on Argentine football.]