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The New Power Shift in European Football


Until recently, Spain had been the dominant force in European football. Between 2013 and 2018, seven of the 10 Champions League finalists were from La Liga and all five winners were Spanish (Real Madrid x 4 and Barcelona x1). Meanwhile, in the second tier, six of the nine Europa League winners between 2012 and 2020 were Spanish (Sevilla x 4 and Atletico Madrid x2). However, the last five years have seen a shift towards dominance by teams from the Premier League. So, let’s take a closer look at the numbers behind that shift.

New Era of English Dominance

Looking back over a rolling five-year period, five of the last 12 Europa League finalists have been from England with four from Spain, one from the Netherlands, one from France, and one from Italy. Likewise, five of the last 12 Champions League finalists have been from England with four from Spain, one from France, one from Germany, and one from Italy. However, this season is the third in a row that a Spanish side has not reached the Champions League final. The last time that happened was between the 2002/03 and 2004/05.

Germany Underperforming

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the lack of German teams in the mix. Of the 24 finalists in the top two European competitions over the last five years, only one has been from the Bundesliga. Unsurprisingly, that team was Bayern Munich who won the 2020 Champions League.

Both Italy (two) and France (two) have had more finalists than Germany across the last five years. Meanwhile, England has had an incredible 10 including first-timers Manchester City who are favourites to prevail in 2021 in the William Hill football odds on a global scale, from Japan to the UK.

What’s more, Germany has produced just one Europa League/UEFA Cup finalist (Werder Bremen 2008/09) since 2003 (the same number as Scotland) and just one Champions League finalist since 2013. Despite the high quality of domestic football in Germany, their European record has lagged well behind England and Spain. For comparison, Portugal has produced six Europa League finalists since 2003 while Ukraine has produced two.

Spanish Crisis

All this begs the question as to what is behind the resurgence of the English teams. Firstly, the biggest two Spanish teams are going through a period of crisis. Barcelona suffered from financial mismanagement under their previous President and has struggled to maintain a competitive squad as a result. However, with Joan Laporta back in control and Ronald Koeman overseeing the development of their younger players, there is reason for their fans to be hopeful that they can find a way out of their €1bn debt hole.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid also has financial issues with mounting debt and a stadium refurbishment to pay for. After a period of dominance that saw them win four out of five Champions Leagues, they have now failed to reach the final for three seasons straight. A failed attempt by President Florentino Perez to form a breakaway European Super League has left them needing to find alternative means of servicing their €900m debt.

Atletico Madrid have taken advantage of their rivals’ misfortune by pushing them all the way in La Liga, but they have failed to make an impact in the Champions League since reaching the final back in 2016.

Keeping the Spanish flag flying

While Spanish teams have experienced a dip in form during the last few years, one Spanish manager has continued to shine. Unai Emery won the Europe League three times in a row with Sevilla from 2013 to 2016. He then led Arsenal to the final in 2019 and took Villarreal to the final in 2021 making them the first Spanish team other than Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, or Sevilla to reach a European final since Valencia in 2004.

Football always moves in cycles and the current period of dominance by English teams might not last too long. However, it can only be good news for the Premier League which had started to suffer from something of an identity crisis during the years of Spanish dominance.


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