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Fair play? How Uefa’s showcase event keeps ‘big’ leagues and clubs dominant


By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

16 March 2012

As the 2011-12 Champions League quarter-finalists discover their fate today, with the most diverse line-up of clubs in the past 15 years (as outlined here), it remains true that Uefa’s showcase tournament is actually becoming narrower and narrower in it’s ‘fairness’, namely its distribution of winners.

In simple terms, the same few ‘big’ clubs from the same four ‘big’ nations – Spain, England, Italy and Germany – are increasingly likely to win it or go deep into the tournament.

And the more times you win it and the deeper you go, the more money you get from Uefa, and it’s a lot of money. See here and here for the past two seasons’ payments.

Sportingintelligence analysis has considered what’s happened in the 14 Champions League tournaments since it stopped being for champions only (in 1997-98); and also what happened in the 14 tournaments before that.

In the most recent 14 tournaments, there have been winners from just five different countries (Spain 6 wins, England 3, Italy 3, Germany 1 and Portugal 1), and only eight different teams winning the trophy: Real Madrid 3 times, Barcelona 3 times, Manchester United twice, Milan twice, and one win each for Liverpool, Internazionale, Bayern Munich and Jose Mourinho’s Porto.

The dominance of the ‘big four’ leagues is put into starker contrast when you consider the make-up of the 120 quarter-finalists in the 15 seasons up to and including this one. Of those 120 quarter-finalists, 32 have come from England, 27 from Spain, 20 Italy, and 16 from Germany.

In other words, 95 of 120 quarter-finalists, or 79 per cent, have come from just four of Uefa’s 53 member nations. Seventy-nine per cent of quarter-finalists from 7.5 per cent of member nations.

What about in the 14 tournaments before non-champions were allowed in, the 14 tournaments prior to 1997-98?

In that period 11 different teams from nine different nations won: with five wins for Italy, two for the Netherlands, and one each for England, Romania, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Spain, France and Germany.

And of course the quarter-finalists came from eight different nations every season, and from a much more varied spread of countries.

Now let’s consider the diversity of participants within those big four nations.

Spain has had the most different teams in the CL group stages since 1997-98, with 12, followed by Germany (10), Italy (9) and England (8).

See the graphic at the bottom of this article for the full breakdown.

It shows quite clearly that for all the diversity, the same names have largely remained dominant over the period: Real Madrid and Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, Milan, Inter, Juve and Roma.

One can make a cogent argument that the Champions League is only helping to enforce the status quo, particular in La Liga, where Real Madrid and Barca become relatively stronger by the year compared to their domestic rivals. La Liga is becoming the SPL – with sun. And pots of Champions League money for Barca and Real for going deep into the tournament most season is helping them. (Yes, I know the deeper iniquity in Spain is all above TV cash, but the CL revenue is also huge).

In England, meanwhile, as the diversity of challenging clubs has broadened in the Premier League (with Manchester City and Tottenham now challenging the ‘big four’ of United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool), one can argue the English challenge in Europe has weakened.

But that is a slightly different debate, for another time.

For now we can just say ‘fair play ha ha’ to Uefa for an event that helps the mighty stay that way – even as Apoel dream of toppling Real Madrid. Good luck with that.


More from Nick Harris


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