Despite the change in the UEFA Country Coefficients, which now pits the Bundesliga in third place, ahead of Italy’s Serie A, the fans of Italian clubs still claim that the Serie A is superior to the Bundesliga. For the casual football fan, this may seem like the case; after all, clubs from Milan have won the UEFA Champions League twice in the last five seasons, and at least one of these Milan clubs looks good for another title, having mauled Arsenal 4-0 in the first leg of the Champions League first knockout round. On the other hand, only FC Bayern has represented the Bundesliga in the Champions League final during the last five years, a final they lost to Internazionale.
UEFA Europa League
The Serie A fans argue that the rankings are also based on the UEFA Cup (now renamed to UEFA Europa League), a competition that Der Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer once dubbed as the “losers’ cup”. They would like the ranking algorithm to be changed to only rank countries based on Champions League performances because they believe it is a better gauge to the strength of a league. A.C. Milan’s vice-president Adriano Galliani criticized the system and told La Gazzetta dello Sport “I think they should separate the Champions League from the Europa League to modify the criteria for admissions.”
But is the UEFA Europa League really not a good benchmark? The answer is much closer to the opposite.
The ultimate ideal rank of a league’s strength is not a list of which countries have the better clubs, but the average of the league as a whole. Celtic and Rangers have been dominating the league for ages and between them have won the last 26 league titles. In Europe, they had decent showings, reaching UEFA competition finals on a number of occasions. However, the rest of the league is relatively very poor. The performances of Celtic and Rangers in Europe help to boost Scotland’s rankings far higher than the fair assessment of the average club in the country.
Using the laws of probability and the normal distribution curve, one can be allowed to make the general assumption that the club that ends up mid-table in a league is close to the average of the league. Therefore, since the UEFA Europa League participants in the top leagues are closer to mid-table than the UEFA Champions League participants, it is indeed the best available gauge as to which is the strongest league.
It’s all in the numbers
Up until 2004, there were 18 clubs participating in both the Serie A and the Bundesliga. But in 2004, a decision was taken to increase this to 20 teams. This meant that two extra clubs were promoted from the Serie B. This was a measure probably taken to increase revenue, but it also made the league instantly weaker by reducing the league average. On the other hand, the Bundesliga remained with 18 competing clubs.
In Germany, the Bundesliga is about the 18 top clubs in the country. In Italy, the Serie A is about the 20 top clubs in the country.
Despite all of this, the Serie A fans might still feel superior to Bundesliga fans. They claim their clubs do better than the Bundesliga clubs. But what better measure is there than checking the direct encounters in European competitions between German and Italian clubs during the last five years?
|German club||Italian club||Result(s)|
|Bayern Munich||S.S.C. Napoli||1-1, 3-2|
|Werder Bremen*||Sampdoria||3-1, 2-3|
|Werder Bremen||Internazionale||0-4, 3-0|
|Bayern Munich||A.S. Roma||2-0, 2-3|
|Bayern Munich||Internazionale*||1-0, 2-3|
|Schalke 04*||Internazionale||5-2, 2-1|
|Bayern Munich||Juventus||0-0, 4-1|
|Bayern Munich*||Fiorentina||2-1, 2-3|
|Werder Bremen||Internazionale||1-1, 2-1|
|Bayern Munich||Fiorentina||3-0, 1-1|
|Borussia Dortmund||Udinese**||0-2, 2-0|
|VfL Wolfsburg||A.C. Milan||2-2|
|Werder Bremen*||A.C. Milan||1-1, 2-2|
|Werder Bremen*||Udinese||3-1, 3-3|
|Werder Bremen||Lazio||2-1, 1-2|
* knocked out opponent in regular time
** knocked out opponent after penalty shootout
Bundesliga wins: 14
Serie A wins: 8
Bundesliga team eliminating Serie A team: 5 times
Serie A team eliminating Bundesliga team: 3 times
Ranking the league as a whole
A website called soccer-rating.com has an algorithm that ranks clubs and countries based on bookmaker odds for the clubs. Unfortunately, their country ranking is based on the top eight teams of every country, which is not the average. Having said that, Germany is still ranked clearly ahead of Italy. In fact, the Bundesliga average is closer to the Premier League than it is to the Serie A.
It’s the way you see it
Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. Admittedly, the Serie A has regularly had more clubs capable of winning the Champions League as opposed to the Bundesliga. However, statistics and analysis strongly indicate that the average strength of the Bundesliga is stronger than the average strength of the Serie A. With the UEFA Financial Fair Play looming and Serie A clubs being forced to spend less money, it is only a matter of time until the Bundesliga is stronger in the Champions League AS WELL.
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