Relative strength of top leagues

snowmanny

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Honest question: how many "major league" level soccer leagues and teams are there in the world?
It always seemed to me that ALL the competition in soccer is diluted by the sheer number of teams in existence compared to, say, basketball where there is basically one league with thirty major league teams and mostly played by the top two or three hundred players. Isn't Messi regularly being defended by players who aren't anywhere near the top three hundred soccer players in the world? Or do I just have this wrong?
 

SumnerH

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That'd be an interesting discussion: which sports have the most/least parity between the top few leagues. The NFL probably dominates more than the NBA, but the NBA is arguably second among the big 4. My hockey knowledge is shallow, but it's my understanding that the KHL is pretty strong, and while the MLB is the class of baseball the Cuban and Japanese leagues have some real talent (just to name a couple). And baseball probably has more random variance that would allow somewhat less talented teams to win more often than in basketball or American football. Soccer pretty obviously has several leagues where at least the top team or two could go play competitively in the others.
 

caesarbear

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Jan 28, 2007
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Also you might consider how many young athletes across the world might play soccer as opposed to basketball or american football... i.e. huge disparity towards soccer. Messi might get defended by a guy that only makes 1 million euros to his 50, but that defender had to fight for that opportunity instead of collecting 900k in a lesser league.
 

snowmanny

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Papelbon said:
Considering there's not "basically one league" in the world for basketball, I would say yes, you have that wrong.
All or almost all of the top fifty basketball players in the world aren't in the NBA? Edit: or the vast majority of the top two or three hundred?
 

Papelbon's Poutine

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snowmanny said:
All or almost all of the top fifty basketball players in the world aren't in the NBA? Edit: or the vast majority of the top two or three hundred?
I agree with Sumner that this would be a cool topic to split out and I'll risk the chance it happens and I'm not further derailing this thread much longer and respond.

Sorry for the flippant reply but I think you're vastly misjudging the international leagues in basketball and soccer. People more versed than I may correct me, so I could easily be wrong, but I don't think it's nearly as simple as you're making it.

First, the Premier League and La Liga are miles past the other leagues in soccer. Bundesliga and Italian Series A are strong as well but not nearly on the level. There's a pocket of top level players in those, but the first two house the vast majority of the worlds best players. So Messi isn't going out and playing against early years MLS level talent. It's not like Pedro mowing through a AAA lineup (for lack of a better analogy). It's like Pedro mowing down 5 of 6 in the 99 All Star game.

Second, it's tough to drop numbers like top 50 or 200-300 around for no other reason other than roster size. Wouldn't you agree that the top 300+ baseball players play in MLB? Does that make the Cuban and Japanese leagues not legit leagues?

Third, as to the numbers you throw out, yes I'd agree the vast majority of the top 50 basketball players are in the NBA. Depending on what you mean by vast majority of 200-300, I would probably disagree. Again, international basketball isn't my strongest suit, but I'm pretty sure most every team could vastly improve their teams by bringing over the best international players as bench and role players. Contract buyouts and salary caps prevent this (they can make a lot more money over there than here) but I have no doubt that the last two or three bench roles on most any team could be improved by international players. Also 11 spots on the Knicks roster.

It would be a great discussion but bottom line, I just think your logic is faulty here. With regards to Messi, soccer and basketball.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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snowmanny said:
Honest question: how many "major league" level soccer leagues and teams are there in the world?
It always seemed to me that ALL the competition in soccer is diluted by the sheer number of teams in existence compared to, say, basketball where there is basically one league with thirty major league teams and mostly played by the top two or three hundred players. Isn't Messi regularly being defended by players who aren't anywhere near the top three hundred soccer players in the world? Or do I just have this wrong?
 
Messi effectively plays in two "leagues," the domestic Spanish league and the UEFA Champions League, which is a tournament-style competition that involves the best clubs from across Europe (there is also domestic cup competition, but lets put that aside for simplicity).  It is true that in some of these games he'll play against weak competition - the worst clubs in La Liga are pretty bad and in the early group stage of the Champions League Barcelona will get drawn against teams from small European countries that aren't very good.  But he'll also play against the best competition in the world fairly regularly, in his domestic games against top teams and in the latter stages of the Champions League, when only the very top teams are left alive.
 

finnVT

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I've occasionally wondered whether there's a good, objective way to rank leagues within a sport.  It's very hard to do this based on results, even when you have something like the Champions League because of the sparsity of matches (even worse in other sports), but it seems like transfers might be one way to do it.  I.e., if young superstars tend to move from league A -> league B, you can infer league B to be better than league A.  On the other hand, if declining older players are going A -> B, B is probably worse than A.  Or perhaps this could even be done entirely on the basis of transfer prices (i.e., if a player sells for more than he previously had, you can infer he's gotten better, and therefore is likely moving to a better league; whereas a player whose value decreases probably got older/worse and is moving down the ladder).
 
I don't have any real clue whether this level of data is available, but I think it'd be a really interesting way to (1) assess relative quality of different leagues, and (2) assess the gap between top leagues of each sport to see how flat the talent distribution at the top is.
 

Kliq

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For soccer it is not about leagues but about teams imo. La Liga has probably the two best teams, but from 1-20, I don't think they are as strong as they are in the EPL.Are Real Madrid and Barcelona better than Chelsea and Manchester United? Yes, but that is just at the very top of the league. I would say that Aston Villa is better than Elche, for example. In addition, their are some really quality teams that can hang with the European elites, but do not play in the top leagues. Bayern might be better than everybody, but their domestic league isn't as strong as La Liga or the EPL. Ajax and PSV have had success in champions league, but they play in a lackluster domestic league. The same could be said for Celtic, Zenit, CSKA Moscow, and to a lesser extent, PSG, Lyon and Marsielle.
 

coremiller

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Morgan's Magic Snowplow said:
 
Messi effectively plays in two "leagues," the domestic Spanish league and the UEFA Champions League, which is a tournament-style competition that involves the best clubs from across Europe (there is also domestic cup competition, but lets put that aside for simplicity).  It is true that in some of these games he'll play against weak competition - the worst clubs in La Liga are pretty bad and in the early group stage of the Champions League Barcelona will get drawn against teams from small European countries that aren't very good.  But he'll also play against the best competition in the world fairly regularly, in his domestic games against top teams and in the latter stages of the Champions League, when only the very top teams are left alive.
 
The lack of parity raises a separate issue, with is that you can't just consider average league strength, you also have to look at the shape of the distribution.  Probably something like half of the world's top 50 players play for one of three teams (Barca, Real Madrid, Bayern). and the rest of the top 50 are very highly concentrated as well at just a handful of clubs (Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd, Atletico, Dortmund, Juve, PSG). 
 
The Guardian does a Top 100 footballers ranking every year; I would quibble with many of the rankings, but it works as a decent proxy.  Here's last year's list:  http://www.theguardian.com/football/ng-interactive/2014/dec/21/the-top-100-footballers-2014-interactive.  Look at the club affiliations.  These players are highly concentrated at Top 10 clubs, and some of the ones who aren't have since moved up to bigger clubs (e.g. Cuadrado left Fiorentina for Chelsea, Bony left Swansea for Man City)
 
The result of this concentration is that the CL knockout rounds have a higher caliber of play/team strength than just about any other professional team sports competition.  NFL/NBA/MLB talent does not concentrate this heavily among the top few teams in the league, because of draft and salary cap/revenue sharing rules.  The great player toiling away on a bad/mediocre team in the prime of his career, which happens with some frequency in American sports, has become basically extinct in soccer.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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coremiller said:
 
The lack of parity raises a separate issue, with is that you can't just consider average league strength, you also have to look at the shape of the distribution.  Probably something like half of the world's top 50 players play for one of three teams (Barca, Real Madrid, Bayern). and the rest of the top 50 are very highly concentrated as well at just a handful of clubs (Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd, Atletico, Dortmund, Juve, PSG). 
 
The Guardian does a Top 100 footballers ranking every year; I would quibble with many of the rankings, but it works as a decent proxy.  Here's last year's list:  http://www.theguardian.com/football/ng-interactive/2014/dec/21/the-top-100-footballers-2014-interactive.  Look at the club affiliations.  These players are highly concentrated at Top 10 clubs, and some of the ones who aren't have since moved up to bigger clubs (e.g. Cuadrado left Fiorentina for Chelsea, Bony left Swansea for Man City)
 
The result of this concentration is that the CL knockout rounds have a higher caliber of play/team strength than just about any other professional team sports competition.  NFL/NBA/MLB talent does not concentrate this heavily among the top few teams in the league, because of draft and salary cap/revenue sharing rules.  The great player toiling away on a bad/mediocre team in the prime of his career, which happens with some frequency in American sports, has become basically extinct in soccer.
 
I agree pretty much across the board.  I think when you get to the back end of those kind of lists, there is a pretty big selection effect:  Guys like Alves, Blind, Mkhitaryan, and Gerrard make the list not because they're really better than a bunch of other players at their respective positions but because they're known names who play for the big clubs. But that doesn't really take away from the larger points you're making.