Tonight Bayern Munich just won their tenth Bundesliga title in a row. In France, meanwhile, PSG have just won their eighth title in the past ten years. (All data correct as of 23/4/22.)
In Spain, the nation’s most successful club Real Madrid require a mere point from their final five games to secure the La Liga title. In fairness, city rivals Atletico are the current champions, and Barcelona have also won in recent years, though thanks to their financial misdealings they look quite a bit off the pace for the next year or two at least.
In Italy’s Serie A, there is at least some end of season interest. Internazionale won it last season, preventing Juventus from winning a tenth title in a row. We have to go back to 2001 to find a team which isn’t Juve or one of the two Milan teams as Scudetto winner, Fabio Capello’s Roma with ‘Batigol’ Batistuta up front. As I write this, it’s between the two Milan teams again, with Juve probably out of it. There’s a slight chance that Napoli could sneak through for the first time since Maradona played for them in the 1980s, but it’s unlikely.
In England, Manchester City lie slightly ahead of Liverpool FC currently. No one else can catch them, which is reasonable, as on current form these are probably the two best club teams on the planet. City won three of the last four titles, with the other going to Liverpool.
Prior to that was the absolutely unlikely scenario of Leicester City, who were 5,000/1 longshots with the bookies at the start of the season, picking up their sole title. England has moved on somewhat from the previous two decades which saw a Manchester United/Chelsea duopoly displacing a previous United/Arsenal duopoly. Nevertheless, Leicester notwithstanding, it’s already pretty obvious which two or three teams next year’s winner will come from.
So that’s the ‘big five’ leagues. Let’s look a bit further afield.
In Austria, Red Bull Salzburg are miles in front. Should they win, it will be their ninth title in a row. It will also be their thirteenth title in sixteen years. This, in a league previously dominated by two Vienna teams.
In Portugal, where the same three teams have pretty much always won the league, sure enough Porto are nine points clear of Sporting Lisbon, who are in turn five points clear of city rivals Benfica. Sporting won it last year, the first time in about two decades. It’s recently been passed back and forth between Benfica and Porto. The last time one of these three didn’t win it was Boavista in 2001. Before that, we have to go back to Lisbon’s third team, Belenenses, in 1946.
Portugal’s tripartite dominance is reminiscent of Holland, where Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV tend to share the honours. Ajax are currently miles in front and highly likely to pick up their third title in a row this season, not including one season abandoned to Covid.
Scotland’s duopoly, the Old Firm continue to dominate of course. Celtic FC are leading this year from city rivals Rangers, who prevented Celtic from doing a ten in a row last year. The last time one of those two didn’t win was 1984, when Aberdeen won under a young manager called Alex Ferguson.
In Greece, Olympiacos look safe for a third title in a row. They relinquished the previous two, but prior to that, they won seven in a row.
We need to look to the smaller nations for signs of change. In Norway, where Rosenborg have dominated for decades, latterly both Molde and Bodo/Glimt have come through. As a summer league, they’ve only just kicked off for the season, so it remains to be seen if Rosenborg can continue to be sidelined.
In Poland, there’s looking like a potential shock with a the title now down to a probable three horse race between Rakow, Lech Poznan, and Pogon Szczecin. Legia Warsaw, winners of seven of the last nine titles, are weirdly mid-table this time.
Not all smaller nations are competitive however. In Bulgaria, Ludogorets look odds on to win their eleventh title in a row this season. Former dominant team, CSKA Sofia habitually come second now. What happened in Bulgaria? A pharmaceuticals multi-millionaire bought Ludogorets is what happened. The same thing that has happened everywhere else.
We’re really not in a position anymore to deny the impact of cold hard cash on soccer success. It clearly correlates far too closely. And by too closely, I mean to the extent that so many titles are becoming foregone conclusions, or at best a race between two or three clubs only, even from the start of the season.
Football’s Financial Fair Play system to level playing fields somewhat has proven a total joke, all over Europe, in other words. We have soccer clubs now owned by sovereign funds of various nations of dubious standing in order to ‘sportswash’ their national images. In turn, they manage to distort and dominate entire leagues. In smaller nations, this process is achieved by individual millionaires investing funds in a club in order to purchase success.
FFP hasn’t worked in other words. It only works where it doesn’t apply, such as Ireland, where no sugar daddies have funded any teams. As a result, Ireland remains genuinely an open race for the title. Perhaps Poland might continue to be also.
Would that more fans in more countries got to experience that excitement rather than simply resigning themselves to dreaming of European qualification, or some other replacement dream. Why did we let billionaires and sovereign funds buy our sporting dreams from us?