From poor managerial appointments to miss-management of funds, there are many factors which can hold a club back. In some cases though, clubs are hamstring purely by virtue of the country in which they are based. Europe’s big five leagues dominate when it comes to Europe’s, and to be honest the world’s best players, and in the last six Champions League finals, only Premier League, La Liga and Serie A sides have been represented.
This is a problem which is hard for clubs from smaller leagues to counteract. It doesn’t matter how well run you are as a club, if your division isn’t an enormous global brand, your revenue potential is greatly reduced and – with it – so too is your appeal to top players. Take Ajax for example… their Champions League run last season was superb, built in no small part around two sensational homegrown players, but the whole world and their dog knew Ajax wouldn’t be able to hang onto Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie De Jong in the summer. Ajax won’t feature in this seven, purely because they do tend to get decent competition from Feyenoord and PSV, but you get the idea.
A quick shout out to Brazilian subscriber and fan of the channel Zeco who sent in this idea. To qualify for this seven, the team in question must top their current league right now, and it is my personal opinion that they would be more rigorously tested in a stronger division. Here are my 7 football clubs who are too good for their leagues:
7. Slavia Prague
Getting us started in this seven are Slavia Prague, who are undoubtedly the least dominant side in their division in this seven. One of the two big hitters from the Czech capital of Prague, Slavia have been outperformed historically by their near neighbours Sparta Prague. Sparta have won a record 12 Czech First League titles in comparison to Slavia’s five, although it is Slavia Prague won the title last season, and they have already built up a huge lead at the top of the table this season.
Just 16 games into the current campaign, Slavia are currently unbeaten in the Czech First League. They’ve won 14 and drawn 2 league games so far this term, giving them a tally of 44 points, which is 11 more than runners-up Viktoria Plzen even at this early stage. They are not unbeaten in the Champions League, having been put in the tournaments group of death up against Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan. Nevertheless, they haven’t been the whipping boys many would have anticipated up against such formidable opposition, having earned draws away at the San Siro against Inter and at the Camp Nou against Barcelona.
That’s a seriously impressive feat for a team running on Slavia’s budget, but if you’re still not convinced, the club also plays out of the Sinobo Stadium, which is the largest in the Czech First League. Historically, there’s no evidence that Slavia Prague are ‘too good’ to be playing in the Czech league system, but right now a good case could be made for it, so they take seventh.
6. Dinamo Zagreb
Next up, we head around 400 miles south from the Czech capital of Prague to the Croatian capital of Zagreb. There are fewer than half as many people in Croatia as there are in the Czech Republic, and the Croatian First League comes in five places below the Czech First League in UEFA’s coefficients. Dinamo Zagreb are far more dominant historically than Slavia Prague, although not right now.
Dinamo have won 20 of the 28 Croatian First League titles since Croatia gained independence, with the next most successful club Hajduk Split having won 6. Dinamo top the league table at the time of this recording with 11 wins from their opening 14 games, giving them a four point cushion over Hajduk. Another side who were expected to be lambs to the slaughter in the Champions League group stages in alongside Man City, Shakhtar Donetsk and Atalanta, Dinamo actually stand a decent chance of progressing more than half way through the group. They beat Atalanta 4-0 in their opening game, and have since drawn twice with Shakhtar.
That surely shows the potential of the side who have, I believe, the lowest wage budget in the entire group stages, and they also play out of the largest stadium in their domestic league. The Stadion Maksimir can accommodate more than 35,000 people, and it’s another reason why Dinamo take sixth place in this seven.
I was extremely tentative about including PSG in this seven, and that is putting it mildly. Ligue 1 is one of the big five leagues in European football, albeit it is the lowest ranked of the five. There are lots of big clubs in France and the division is not to be sniffed at, but the fact is PSG are becoming disproportionately dominant. Last season they won the league by 16 points, the season before they won it by 13 points, and 13 games into this season they already have an eight-point cushion between themselves and second place Marseille. All in all, it is clear to see that PSG’s enormous financial outlay has made them remarkably dominant in the domestic game, and there are no signs that this will end anytime soon.
It hasn’t made the club dominant on the European stage, where their wait for a Champions League or even a Europa League goes on. Despite vast investment, the club is yet to reach the semi-finals of the biggest tournament in European football, and they were knocked out in the quarter-finals of last year’s tournament by a pretty shoddy Manchester United side. They have looked very convincing in this seasons group stages, putting Real Madrid to the sword in a 3-0 home win, but it is the knockout stages that will really test this sides metal. Anyhow, PSG have one of the finest squads in world football and they’re turning into slight flat-track bullies in Ligue 1, so I somewhat begrudgingly decided they had to feature in this seven.
This is another slightly controversial one since at the time of recording there is nothing to split Celtic and Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premiership table. Well, that’s not quite true… both teams are on 31 points, but Celtic’s goal difference of 29 is marginally superior to Rangers’ goal difference of 28. In truth, one could argue both Celtic and Rangers are too good for Scottish football right now, with a big gap between second and third emerging once again. I can only include teams who top their league table though, and in fairness, Celtic have been the dominant force in Scottish football for much of the last decade.
Following Rangers’ demise, Celtic have been largely untroubled in their relentless pursuit of domestic titles. European success has inevitably been harder to come by for a team playing in a league which faces an uphill battle trying to rival the Premier League just south of the border when it comes to finances. Celtic do top their Europa League group at the time of recording, already assured of a place in the knockout stages, whilst Rangers are also putting up a strong fight having been handed a tough draw. I’d include both if I could, but I can’t, so in at fourth are Celtic, who have an enormous fan base and are currently in the hunt for a ninth consecutive top flight title.
3. Red Star Belgrade
We say farewell to the Europa League and return to the Champions League for our inclusion in third. The Serbian SuperLiga comes in way down in 19th place in terms of UEFA’s league coefficients, below the top flights of Scottish and Cypriot football. Red Star Belgrade are the most successful team in the history of Serbian football, with their 30 league titles narrowly edging out the 27 won by their eternal rivals Partizan. At the time of this recording though, Partizan sit fourth in the Serbian SuperLiga, with Red Star out in front, seven points clear of second place with a game in hand.
They were drawn alongside Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur and Olympiacos in the 2019-20 Champions League group stages, in a draw which seemed to leave two obvious candidates to progress. The challenge for Red Star would be securing third place and a route into the Europa League, and as long as they can avoid defeat in their final group game away to Olympiacos they should be able to pull that off.
Red Star have won the last four Serbian league titles, sometimes by gargantuan amounts. They went unbeaten during the 2015-16 season, finishing a laughable 28 points ahead of Partizan in second. Red Star also have the largest stadium in Serbian football, with a capacity in excess of 55,000, and the club looks likely to romp to the title once again this season.
2. Shakhtar Donetsk
It was a tight call for top spot between two teams who are quite clearly too good for their current leagues as far as I’m concerned. Taking the silver medal in second place are Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukrainian Premier League is a complete duopoly, with Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev having won the league for 27 of the last 28 seasons since Ukrainian independence, and the one they didn’t win was the very first season in 1992.
Dynamo have actually won more titles than Shakhtar, with 15 to Shakhtar’s 12, but it is the club from Donetsk who have reigned supreme over the last decade. Shakhtar have won the last three league titles, and only once did they have a genuine challenge on their hands. This season will see another title comfortably head to Donetsk, except it won’t, since Shakhtar haven’t been able to play in the city since 2017 due to the War in Donbass.
Shakhtar are unbeaten and have a 12 point lead in the Ukrainian Premier League at the time of recording, despite being only 14 games into the campaign. Shakhtar are in the same Champions League group as our sixth place inclusions Dinamo Zagreb, and it will be between those two to see who gets second place and a passage through to the knockout stages behind Man City in that group.
1. RB Salzburg
Shakhtar Donetsk are excellent candidates, but ultimately I don’t think you can argue with RB Salzburg taking top spot in this seven. The process of how RB Salzburg came to be so dominant in Austria may leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth, but there’s little point in denying they are in a different league to those around them.
They have won each of the last six Austrian Bundesliga titles, with an often emphatic gap between themselves and the chasing pack. In the 2016-17 season, for example, the club finished 18 points ahead of Austria Wien during a 36-game season. Their gap at the start of this season, following 14 games, is significantly narrower, but only because LASK Linz have made such a sensational start to the season. RB Salzburg remain unbeaten, three points clear at the top of the division, and one would be amazed if they didn’t make it seven titles in a row.
In the Champions League, the club would probably have to win both of their last two group games to qualify for the knockout stages ahead of either Napoli or Liverpool, but they look likely to at least enter the Europa League. Erling Haaland is the man who has grabbed all the headlines at RB Salzburg so far this season, scoring 26 goals in 18 games, but the fact that the club play in the Austrian Bundesliga means he will almost certainly have left by the time the 2020-21 season kicks off.