I love watching professional soccer, but I’m the first to admit there is a problem with hegemony in the ranks of Europe’s top leagues.
Two weeks ago, FC Bayern Munich was crowned the champion of the German Bundesliga for an unprecedented eighth year in a row. While Bayern’s season got off to a sloppy start, the record-breaking accomplishment came as little surprise. The Bavarian club has dominated German soccer history, winning 29 titles since the Bundesliga was formed in 1963.
Bayern’s supremacy in Germany is not an anomaly, and similar dynasties exist in other countries. In Italy, Juventus F.C. has won eight consecutive Serie A titles. In France, Paris Saint-Germain has won seven of the last eight Ligue 1 titles. In Spain, the duopoly of CF Real Madrid and FC Barcelona has lasted for decades, with the two giants tending to trade league titles back and forth.
The only major European league that seems to have some semblance of competition these days is the English Premier League, in which any of two or three teams are likely to win in a given year. But even that league has a noticeable gap in quality between the top few clubs and the mid-to-bottom-range clubs – Liverpool FC was crowned champion this year, with seven games to spare.
The reasons for this ultimately come down to how capitalist European soccer is. The system is set up to financially reward teams that do well while punishing teams that struggle. The more a team wins, the more revenue it will generate, in the form of better television broadcast deals, corporate sponsorships, increased advertising, ticket and merchandise sales and prize money. And that money can be reinvested in the team in the form of signing better players and coaches.
Small clubs might occasionally punch above their weight, but the bigger teams will always entice the best players with substantially higher wages and better chances of winning silverware.
We don’t see this – at least, not as often – in professional sports in North America, where salary caps are imposed and the draft systems favour teams that did poorly the year before. These measures can help create a slightly more competitive environment.
I would like to see similar ideas implemented in European soccer, though I confess doing so might not accomplish very much. There are loopholes regarding a salary cap, which would have to be implemented worldwide by FIFA – otherwise, the best players would gravitate to whichever countries do not have a cap in place. Already, dozens of elite players have gone to countries like China, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which do not have internationally popular leagues, so they can earn astronomical salaries.