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  • Europe’s Big Five: Will any other leagues ever take their place? How are they determined? All the logistics and more explained ✍️

Europe’s Big Five: Will any other leagues ever take their place? How are they determined? All the logistics and more explained ✍️


The Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 are statistically the strongest leagues in the world. 🔢

Consistent high-quality performances of their clubs in European competition every season help them remain at the top. 🔝

How do UEFA rankings work? Is there any real opportunity for other leagues to overtake the Big Five one day? All the answers and more below. 👇

The Big Five of football: The Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1.

They are seen as the collective leagues where the best footballers in the world go to develop and ultimately shine on the biggest stage. Statistically speaking, they are the most followed leagues on the planet.

Within Europe, there is little to no competition for them. UEFA country coefficients show that the only leagues that even come close to the level of the Top 5 leagues are the Dutch Eredivisie, the Portuguese Primeira Liga and the Belgian Pro League.

Despite that, the French Ligue 1 almost always finishes every season as the 5th best ranked league in Europe.

On a larger scale, it’s a known fact that other confederations simply cannot compete with UEFA when it comes to global viewership & reach, revenue, resources and talent. Some of the world’s best young players may burst onto the scene outside of Europe but if they’re good enough, they will inevitably get snatched by a top club within the Big Five.

But why is this the case?

Is there any hope at all for other leagues - either within Europe or in other continents - to one day become as popular as the Premier League and compete with them on an annual basis to develop and sign the best players in the world?

Will the European Big Five ever be overtaken?

In this 37th edition of the Plei newsletter, I explain how UEFA and world football coefficients work, as well as diving into the process of what it takes for a league to gain more global exposure. 👇

🔢 How are coefficients determined?

If you’re not familiar with the concept of coefficients in football, they are basically used to determine the ranks of clubs, leagues, confederations, etc. The more a club achieves, the higher the league they belong to will be ranked.

For starters, let’s look at UEFA coefficients.

We mentioned how the typical ‘Big Five’ of European football consists of the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1. These leagues contain the most prestigious clubs in the world, like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Juventus, PSG and others.

Despite the obvious fact that the best players in the world play in these leagues, the concept of the Big Five actually comes from coefficients. There’s an entire ranking system that helps determine which leagues are doing the best in any given moment, and it gets recalculated every time a European match (UCL, UEL, UECL) takes place.

Currently, England holds the top spot in the rankings. Spain comes in second, Italy in third, Germany in fourth, and France in fifth, hence being considered, statistically-speaking, the best leagues in Europe.

And it all comes down to performance. Club coefficients are based on the results of the clubs in each European association (country) in the last five previous UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League seasons.

A point system determines these rankings during each season. You can find them on UEFA’s website, but we listed them below.

Points are awarded to associations as follows:

2 – All wins from group stage (UCL, UEL, UECL)

1 – All wins in qualifying and play-off matches (UCL, UEL, UECL)

1 – All draws from group stage (UCL, UEL, UECL)

0.5 – All draws in qualifying and play-off matches (UCL, UEL, UECL)

4 – Group stage bonus participation (UCL)

4 – Round of 16 bonus participation (UCL)

4 – Group winners (UEL)

2 – Group runners-up (UEL)

2 – Group winners (UECL)

1 – Group runners-up (UECL)

1 – Each round clubs reach from the round of 16 (UCL, UEL)

1 – Each round clubs reach from the semi-finals (UECL)

The final coefficient is calculated by coming up with an average score. This is done as follows:

  • Dividing the number of points obtained by the total # of clubs representing an association in that season’s club competitions. The higher this number, the better the association performed in any given individual season. (Ex. Italy is currently in first place for the 23/24 season; a total of seven participating Italian clubs have gained 98 points this season. Their coefficient for this season is 14. Germany is in second with a coefficient of 13.642. As the European season is still ongoing, these rankings may not remain the same.)

  • To get the final coefficient, the average calculated above is added up with the averages of the previous four seasons. The higher this number, the better the association performed across the last five seasons. (Ex. England holds first place as being the highest-ranked association of UEFA, thanks to a grand tally of 100.553, calculated using the averages of the 19/20, 20/21, 21/22, 22/23 and 23/24 seasons.)

If you’re still confused, think of it this way. England is #1 because their clubs have done better on average in Europe over the course of the last five years. They’ve won more games, gone further in the UCL, UEL & UECL, and have gained more points as a result.

Essentially, clubs in each association work as a team so that their respective country gets a higher rank. Although Barcelona and Real Madrid are each other’s fiercest rivals, every time they win matches in the Champions League, they are helping increase their association’s rank.

In turn, having a higher rank means more UCL/UEL/UECL spots in your league table. So, by doing well in Europe consistently, you’re helping other clubs in your association qualify for European competition, offering the opportunity for more representation for the country you play in.

📈 What does it take for a league to rise up the rankings?

If you’re not confused anymore, let’s talk about what it takes for a league to break into the European Big Five.

Hopefully, you get the gist already. If you’re playing for a club in a country way down in the rankings, the league that you play in probably has limited spots that guarantee qualification into European competition the following season.

As you probably guessed by now, it’s quite the long road for a small club in a lowly-ranked association to make it into the Champions League. Winning your respective league isn’t enough; you have to win it over and over, qualify for European competition, and while you’re in the Conference or Europa League, you have to win games and advance as far as possible, over and over.

It’s rinse and repeat until new qualification spots get allocated to your league due to a higher coefficient.

This sort of formula is the reason why clubs from countries like Latvia, Georgia and Malta only occasionally see themselves qualify into the Conference League and Europa League but have a tough time making it to the group stage of the Champions League.

The funds, exposure and resources just aren’t there. There may be talent, but if a player is that good, he’ll just get picked up by a Big Five club in the blink of an eye.

🤔 Will the Big Five ever be overtaken?

For the reasons mentioned above, we’ll most likely never see the likes of the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 ever lose their status as the most prestigious associations in world football.

Beyond having the revenue, viewership and other key resources, there is just too much history to even consider the chance of one of these leagues one day plummeting down the ranks.

For associations like the Netherlands, Portugal and Belgium, their odds are a bit better. Because they hold the 6th, 7th and 8th ranks according to UEFA coefficients, they boast their fair share of direct qualification and qualifier spots for European competition every season, offering consistent opportunity for their clubs to do well.

But without boasting the most elite names in world football in their squads, it’s still just as tough of a road for them.

To put it all into perspective, the last time a club not in the Big Five leagues of European football won the Champions League was Porto, nearly two decades ago. Led by none other than Jose Mourinho, the Primeira Liga giants shocked the world, taking down Manchester United, Lyon, Deportivo and finally Monaco in the final to win the prestigious trophy.

We see upsets by underdogs every season, but none to this extent.

For this reason, it’s highly unlikely that the Big Five will ever lose their status - at least within Europe.

I think it’s much more likely that a league outside Europe gets the job done. Football is growing around the world every year, and it won’t be long before we see the likes of the MLS or the Saudi Pro League take over. Thanks to Messi and Ronaldo, the global exposure is already there. 

Having the GOATs of football also means more viewers and revenue, naturally.

It may take decades to see a much more obvious shift in the football culture, but I’m certain it will happen eventually.

💭 Question for readers:

What league do you think is capable of achieving Premier League-esque status one day? Let me know by replying to this email!

That’s it for the 37th edition of our newsletter! 😅
How did you like it? Let me know by messaging me via email at [email protected] or by sending us a text. 📲
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