Saturday, May 29, 2021

Copa Libertadores vs Champions League

The swift unraveling of the European Super League doesn’t mean that things will become better in the Champions League. It still appears that the dominance of few clubs from Europe’s big 5 leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France) will continue for a long time. This wasn’t always the case in the Champions League / European Cup but has became the new normal. If Europe's main club competition doesn't offer much hope of change, then what about South America's big club competition? A recent observation from Norman Crane about how things fare in the Copa Libertadores inspired me to compare the different winners in South America’s main Club tournament with that of Europe’s main Club competition.

Copa Libertadores: 10 South American countries but 2 dominate

Overall winners by country: 

Argentina: 25
Brazil: 20
Uruguay: 8
Colombia: 3
Paraguay: 3
Chile: 1
Ecuador: 1

It is not a surprise to see that Argentinian and Brazilian clubs have dominated the overall Copa Libertadores with Uruguayan clubs at #3. These 3 are also the most successful national teams in South American football as Brazil have 5 World Cup wins, Argentina and Uruguay have won 2 world Cups each. Uruguay have the most Copa America wins at 15, Argentina have 14 while Brazil have 9.

However, it is still surprising to see such a small number of winning teams from Colombia (3) and Chile (1) given their national team's strong performances over the last few decades. Currently, there are no Copa Libertadores winners from Peru, Bolivia or Venezuela.

In terms of the top winning clubs, it is a surprise to see the Argentine club Independiente still leads the list with 7 titles thanks to the 4 titles they won in the 1970s with their last title coming in 1984. It is also a big surprise to see the traditionally big Brazilian clubs such as Santos and São Paulo only have 3 overall titles while Flamengo with only 2, one of which was in that recent remarkable 2-1 win over River Plate in 2019, with Gabriel Barbosa scoring the goals in 92nd and 95th minute to clinch the win.

Wins by clubs: 

Independiente: 7
Boca Juniors: 6
Peñarol: 5
River Plate: 4
Estudiantes: 4
Olimpia, Nacional, São Paulo, Santos, Grêmio: 3
Palmeiras, Cruzeiro, Internacional, Atlético Nacional, Flamengo: 2
Colo-Colo, Racing, Argentinos Juniors, Vélez Sársfield, Vasco da Gama, Once Caldas, LDU Quito, Corinthians, Atlético Mineiro, San Lorenzo: 1

Copa Libertadores by the decades:

1960 - 69

Peñarol started Copa Libertadores in a strong fashion by winning the first 2 tournaments and finishing runners-up in the third tournament. However, clubs from Argentina came to dominate this decade.

Overall, 5 different teams won from just 3 nations.

Argentina (5): Independiente (1964, 1965), Estudiantes (1968, 1969), Racing (1967)
Uruguay (3): Peñarol (1960, 1961, 1966)
Brazil (2): Santos (1962, 1963)

1970 - 79 

Argentina extended their dominance in the 1970s and that also coincided with their national team winning their first World Cup in 1978. Brazilian football was declining on the international stage after Pelé retired in 1970 and that decline was reflected at the club level as well as only one Brazilian club won a title in this decade. Paraguay had their first ever Copa Libertadores winner as Olimipia won the first of their 3 titles in 1979.

6 different teams won from 4 nations.
Argentina (7): Estudiantes (1970), Independiente (1972, 1973, 1974, 1975), Boca Juniors (1977, 1978)
Uruguay (1): Nacional (1971)
Brazil (1): Cruzeiro (1976)
Paraguay (1): Olimipia (1979)

1980 - 89 

Clubs from Uruguay began their re-awakening and that translated into their national team growing in strength until the mid 1990s. Atlético Nacional became the first Colombian team to win the Copa in 1989. 

Overall, a diverse decade of winners with 8 different teams winning from 4 nations.

Uruguay (4): Nacional (1980, 1988), Peñarol (1982, 1987)
Argentina (3): Independiente (1984),  Argentinos Juniors (1985), River Plate (1986)
Brazil (2): Flamengo (1981), Grêmio (1983)
Colombia (1): Atlético Nacional (1989)

1990 - 99

The best decade in spreading out the titles as 9 different teams from 4 nations won the competition.
Brazilian clubs dominated and would start their seesaw battle with Argentine teams in dominating a decade. The famous Colo-Colo won their and Chile's first Copa in 1991.

Brazil (6): São Paulo (1992, 1993), Grêmio (1995), Cruzeiro (1997),
Vasco da Gama (1998), Palmeiras (1999)
Argentina (2): Vélez Sársfield (1994), River Plate (1996)
Paraguay (1): Olimpia (1990)
Chile (1): Colo-Colo (1991)

2000 - 2009

7 different teams won from 5 nations with Argentina dominating again and their clubs taking over from Brazilian clubs. LDU Quito became the first ever team from Ecuador to win the Copa in 2008.

Argentina (5): Boca Juniors (2000, 2001, 2003, 2007), Estudiantes (2009)
Brazil (2): São Paulo (2005), Internacional (2006)
Paraguay (1): Olimpia (2002)
Colombia (1): Once Caldas (2004)
Ecuador (1): LDU Quito (2008)

2010 - 2019

Brazilian clubs dominated this decade although it wasn’t one Brazilian club that dominated. 6 different Brazilian clubs won a single title and as a result 9 different teams won from just 3 countries.

Brazil (6): Internacional (2010), Santos (2011), Corinthians (2012), Atlético Mineiro (2013), Grêmio (2017), Flamengo (2019)
Argentina (3): San Lorenzo (2014), River Plate (2015, 2018)
Colombia (1): Atlético Nacional (2016)

2020 - 2021

2020 proved to be an all Brazilian Copa final although the final was played in 2021 due to the pandemic shifting things. Palmeiras won the title 1-0 over Santos. Given the recent dominance of Brazilian teams, it feels safe to say that Brazilian clubs may dominate this decade but if the seesaw logic holds, then Argentine teams should win more than the Brazilian teams. As Tim Vickery noted recently that even this year the dominance of Brazilian and Argentine teams looks set to continue as 12 of the teams in the round of 16 are from Brazil and Argentina (6 each) with 2 teams from Paraguay and single teams from Chile, Ecuador.

“Just five of South America's 10 countries, then, are represented in the round of 16. As well as Colombia, there were wipeouts for Peru (for the eighth successive year), Venezuela (for the fifth and the 11th in the last 12), Uruguay and Bolivia.”

European Cup / Champions League

Overall winners by Country:

Spain: 18
England: 14
Italy: 12
Germany: 8
Holland: 6
Portugal: 4
France: 1
Romania: 1
Scotland: 1
Yugoslavia: 1

Just two Spanish clubs (Real Madrid with 13 wins and Barcelona with 5) make Spain the dominating nation in terms of European Cup / Champions League winners.

In contrast, England’s 14 wins are provided by 5 clubs (Liverpool, Man Utd, Nottingham Forest, Chelsea, Aston Villa).

Italy’s 12 wins are by their big 3 of AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus. Bayern Munich’s 6 wins prop up Germany’s 8 total wins with single titles by Borussia Dortmund and Hamburg.

Holland’s 6 wins are by their most well known big 3 led by Ajax with 4, Feyenoord and PSV with a single title each. It is not a surprise that Portugal’s big two clubs Benfica and Porto each have 2 titles.

Wins by Clubs:

Real Madrid: 13
Milan: 7
Bayern Munich, Liverpool: 6
Barcelona: 5
Ajax: 4
Manchester United, Inter Milan: 3
Juventus, Benfica, Nottingham Forest, Porto, Chelsea: 2
Celtic, Hamburg, FCSB, Marseille, Borussia Dortmund, Feyenoord, Aston Villa, PSV, Red Star: 1

1956 - 1959

The tournament started in the 1955-56 season so it is hard to measure the 1950s via a proper evaluation but safe to say Real Madrid dominated the tournament early on by winning the first 5 straight European Cups including all 4 in the 1950s.

Spain (4): Real Madrid (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959)

1960 - 69

6 different teams won from 5 different nations. Celtic won the first ever European Cup for a British team and it still remains the only European Cup that Celtic has won. Portuguese powerhouse Benfica led by
Eusébio won their only 2 European Cups in the 1960s and also finished runners-up on 3 other occasions in the 1960s.

Italy (4): AC Milan (1963, 1969), Inter Milan (1964, 1965)
Spain (2): Real Madrid (1960, 1966)
Portugal (2): Benfica (1961, 1962)
Scotland (1): Celtic (1967)
England (1): Manchester United (1968)

1970 - 79

Worst decade in spreading winners out as only 5 teams won from 3 different countries. The rise of Johan Cruyff meant Ajax won three straight titles and that dominace also translated into Holland’s strong showing at the 1974 World Cup. Cruyff left Ajax for Barcelona in 1973 and it is not a surprise that Ajax didn’t win any more European Cups in the 1970s. Although, without Cruyff the Dutch national team did still make the 1978 World Cup final which they lost to hosts Argentina.

Holland (4): Feyenoord (1970), Ajax (1971, 1972, 1973)
Germany (3): Bayern Munich (1974, 1975, 1976)
England (3): Liverpool (1977, 1978), Nottingham Forest (1979)

1980 - 89

9 different teams won from 6 different nations.

English Clubs dominated the early 1980s but were banned from the European Cup after the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985. The absense of English clubs surely played a key part in spreading out the winners in the late 1980s before the rise of Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan team, powered by the flying dutchmen trio of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, won about back-to-back European titles in 1989 and 1990.

England (4): Nottingham Forest (1980), Liverpool (1981, 1984), Aston Villa (1982)
Italy (2): Juventus (1985), AC Milan (1989)
Germany (1): Hamburg (1983)
Romania (1): Steaua Bucharest (1986)
Portugal (1): Porto (1987)
Holland (1): PSV Eindhoven (1988)

1990 - 99

Best decade in terms of spreading winners as 9 different teams won from 7 different nations. Also, this was the last decade before changes started happening across the European game including the rebranding of European Cup to Champions League plus the removal of foreign player restrictions for a team. The collapse of the Berlin Wall, changing of transfer policies in Eastern Europe and the dissolving of Yugoslavia meant that talented Eastern European players could move to Western European teams for the first time.

Italy (3): AC Milan (1990, 1994), Juventus (1996)
Spain (2): Barcelona (1992), Real Madrid (1998)
Yugoslavia (1): Red Star Belgrade (1991)
France (1): Marseille (1993)
Holland (1): Ajax (1995)
Germany (1): Borussia Dortmund (1997)
England (1): Manchester United (1999)

2000 - 2009 

7 teams won from 5 different countries.

Spain (4): Real Madrid (2000, 2002), Barcelona (2006, 2009)
Italy (2): AC Milan (2003, 2007)
England (2): Liverpool (2005), Manchester United (2008) 

Germany (1): Bayern Munich (2001)
Portugal (1): Porto (2004)

2010 - 2019

6 teams won from 4 different countries. The 1970s were worse in the fewest number of different winners but this decade certainly featured a lot of repeated and predictable match-ups. The difference was in the 1970s, each country only had 1 team in the competition which meant some different teams still took part. But with the expanded Champions League format with top 4 teams from Spain, England meant almost the same teams were present resulting in similar match-ups.

Spain (6): Barcelona (2011, 2015), Real Madrid (2014, 2016, 2017, 2018)
England (2): Chelsea (2012), Liverpool (2019)
Italy (1): Inter Milan (2010)
Germany (1): Bayern Munich (2013)

2020 - 2021

Germany won the first title of this decade after Bayern Munich’s 1-0 win in 2020 over PSG while Chelsea beat Man City 1-0 in an all English final in 2021.

Comparison of Copa Libertadores vs Champions League 

The financial, social and economic circumstances between European and South America clubs are vastly different but a curious statistic stands out. Both continents had their best decade of different winners in the 1990s. That makes sense as the game was going through a massive shift in that decade. The European Cup became the Champions League and the Premier League was formed and as a result, more money flowed into the European game. The Bosman ruling was also a seismic shift and meant that European teams could buy more than a limited quota of foreign players (3 in the case of Serie A) which also resulted in a lot of Eastern European and South American players leaving for Western European teams from the late 1990s onwards. In that sense, the 1990s was the last decade where a lot of South American / Eastern European teams could keep their local talent. It is worth noting that Barcelona signed Lionel Messi at the age of 13 from Newell's Old Boys in 2000.

As 2000s started, the big 5 leagues in Europe (England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France) started to breakaway from the rest of the European teams in terms of finances gained via new lucrative TV deals or by foreign owners putting in their own millions in stacking up the teams. No such big money flowed into South American clubs whose biggest source of revenue was selling their young talent to European teams. On a slightly positive note, some experienced South American players are returning to their home nations to finish their careers such as Carlos Tevez (currently at Boca Juniors), Dani Alves (signed with São Paulo in 2019) and Roque Santa Cruz who returned to Paraguay's Olimpia in 2016, the same team with whom he started his youth career with.

On the European stage, it appears highly unlikely that a team outside of the top 5 leagues can win the title while it looks like that mostly a Brazilian or Argentinian team can win the Copa Libertadores. The Copa Libertadores quota allows 5 teams each from Brazil and Argentina while only 2 each from the remaining 8 nations. In addition, the winners of the previous year's Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana (similar to Europa League) are allowed entry. That is why in the current 2020-2021 season there are 6 teams each from Brazil and Argentina. Having 5-6 teams each from Brazil and Argentina means that at least the Copa Libertadores may have different Brazilian or Argentine winners each year because their domestic titles aren't dominated by a single team to the extent that the European domestic league titles are.

No comments: