Club World Rankings.com
Guide to the Oosterpark Rankings
|Guide to the rankings/basic explanation|
These rankings are a method of ranking all (association) football clubs anywhere on the planet according to historical achievements. They do not seek to proclaim a “best club” in history, too many indefinable other factors would have to be taken into account for that. Nor do these rankings suggest to be a definitive way of classifying clubs worldwide. Not one single system could create a ranking that is beyond debate or criticism, nor is it desirable, as it takes away all the fun of arguing forever and a day. The purpose of these rankings is to give a certain, statistically defendable value to all levels of “success” that were considered for this project, and throw up an all-time ranking in the process.
The definition of success will inevitably vary, depending on the size of a club and its expectations. The Real Madrids, AC Milans and Boca Juniors of this world will be happy only with regular, genuine silverware, yet for the clubs “a category below”, the occasional trophy will be considered a great success, and even further down the natural pecking order, qualification for continental club competitions, or indeed merely being present at the highest domestic level is.
When the author started work on these rankings, in the last months of 1999, he initially had no idea how far he wanted to take this project. At first the ranking was mainly European and limited by the basic rule that second is first loser, and only first place would count. As such, only domestic league titles, the primary domestic cup, and continental trophies were included in the rankings. As the RSSSF archives on the internet began to grow, it was thought possible to expand the project ever so slightly, and make including all competitions worth winning, in every corner of the earth, the ultimate target. Over the years, all domestic champions were added, and a value was given to each and every country. This rating was subject to historical variation, depending on the relative strength of a country’s club football at the time, it could be (a lot) higher or lower than it is today.
By the end of 2004, this led to a ranking which, in my humble opinion, painted a decent picture of which clubs were the most successful in history (regardless of whether or not one agrees with the actual points system applied). By then, various compensation systems had been put in place to correct, for instance, the historical advantage Europe had over South America and the rest of the world. Taking the Brazilian national championship as an example, this wasn’t founded until 1971, giving England an 80-year head start. Inevitably, English clubs would have a massive advantage. To compensate for that, a specific solution in this case involved including the State Championships in Brazil. While they are obviously rated lower than the national championship in Brazil, they’re still worth more than a league title in many other countries.
At the same time, it was never the intention to punish the likes of England, who simply got their act together quicker. Taking into account that over the years, the aforementioned advantage would erode anyway, especially with the compensation system put in place (a 30-year head start over a total period of 60 years of rankings equals 50%, whereas the ranking now includes everything from the dawn of organised association football era in 1872 until the present day, and 30 years out of almost 140 is not nearly as much of an advantage), one would still expect especially the leading European teams to be slightly ahead of their South American counterparts, but the latter ones catching up quickly (South America’s big guns have the opportunity of winning two major continental trophies per season). As the rankings by era (updated yearly) show, a South American club has actually outscored all others in the 21st century.
Providing a detailed explanation of all compensations, checks and balances applied goes much too far. These rankings, with their 700+ competitions and types of bonus points are, to the best of my knowledge, the most complete of their kind. As at the end of 2010, around 4,500 clubs were ranked, many of which have gone out of existence over the years. In between them, they were worth over 60,000 database entries in terms of points obtained. It was especially challenging to prevent duplicate entries, as Eastern Europe in particular has a habit of changing club names every 10 seconds. It also didn’t help that the Old World can’t seem to stick to their borders for more than a generation, as clubs hopping from one country to another also proved interesting in terms of matching data.
Looking at the top of the rankings, perhaps the most surprising thing at first sight is the inclusion of Scotland’s Old Firm (Rangers and Celtic) in the top-15. It had struck me as a reason to doubt to algorithms used at first, but upon closer inspection, and taking a few modifications into account, their high ranking is explained by the fact that not only have they utterly dominated Scottish football in between them, but despite popular myth, Scottish football was actually very strong at one point in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Several Scottish clubs reached the latter stages of European competition, and at national team level, of course the Scots won the 1967 World Cup at Wembley. Looking at the historical development of Celtic’s and Rangers’ position, the explanation is that before the introduction of European competition, they had dominated a league strong enough in comparison to others on the Continent by such a margin that it would take many years of continental competition to compensate for that. Apart from winning the odd European trophy, the pair also reached several quarter- and semi finals, and even the final proper on more than one occasion.
Nevertheless, Scotland is a classic example of historical advantage eroding over the years, as Rangers, top in 1957, dropped out of the top-3 in 1970, out of the top-5 in 1981, and lost top-10 status in 1987. As the Champions League era causes the big clubs to score more regular points, a few more clubs are knocking on the top-15 door. That will lead to a further slide for Rangers and their arch-rivals Celtic. A brief Old Firm revival, with UEFA Cup finals for both in the first decade of the 21st century, was temporary, and it would appear that barring a genuine European comeback, the top-15 will eventually prove to be out of reach. As Peñarol of Montevideo, Uruguay shows, though, it is not only Europe that has countries and clubs like this. Uruguay, too, appears to have lost the plot at club level, and Peñarol, in second place overall in three different decades and still third as recent as 1991, are also in retreat. None of these clubs feature anywhere near the very top of the rankings over the most recent years.
All the above serves to paint a picture of how various eras affected the rankings, and what kind of compensations have been put in place. The basic rule throughout has been that the title in the strongest leagues (historically England, Italy, and at various times also Spain) was rated at 100 points from the modern era (from the 1960s onwards), and increasingly less the further we go back in time, before professionalisation and organisational perfection set in. A country’s primary domestic cup is rated at 60% of the league title, a League Cup, if applicable, at 25%, a national Super Cup at 5%. All associations’ leagues are given a relative strength in relation to the maximum. In Europe, the UEFA Coefficients form the basis of this, albeit in a modified way. To rate (European) countries in the time before these coefficients were available, they were generated by the author. Similar coefficients were drawn up for Africa and in a different way, for Asia. For the Americas, Paulo Freitas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, came up with a detailed argument for how their points should be allocated. This was statistically verified and implemented. By 2008, CONMEBOL had operated a Copa Libertadores/Copa Sudamericana structure long enough to base inter-country comparisons on a system similar to that in use for most other confederations.
At the end of all that, league titles vary between 1 and 100 points. A few examples of the 2011 allocations are: Spain, England, Italy 100; Germany 95; Brazil 90, France 75; Portugal 55; Netherlands, Ukraine 55. Argentina would’ve been rated at 90, but one of the many compensation measures in place (this one for the absence of a domestic cup competition) sees both halves of their league championship (as is the structure in place in Argentina) valued at 60 points each. This makes Argentina the only country where more than 100 points are available in a single league season. On one hand, it compensates for the lack of a cup competition (league + cup would’ve been worth (90 + 54), on the other hand, this full points total isn’t as high as it would’ve been had a knockout cup been played for. This to prevent polarisation of Argentine clubs and to stop over-inflating the league champions’ ranking. The same applies to Mexico, where 2x35 points are available for the league. Since the European leagues' ratings are for a considerable part based on the (modified) UEFA Coefficients, that instrument too is subject to strong scrutiny. From 2007 onwards, for example, the effect of having a group stage in the UEFA Cup has started to have too big an effect on the amount of coefficient points available, which led to inflation in the eventual league ratings of too many countries. Therefore, a damping mechanism was put in place to compensate for this.
Some further current league title ratings are: Turkey 40; Greece, Belgium 35; Hungary (like Scotland once leading Europe) 10. The strongest African and Asian leagues are rated at 15 points, and points decrease as the standard of club football (mainly based on historical strength in relation to the rest of a continent) does. Vietnam, Somala, Surinam, Liberia etc… are worth 1 point, the likes of Mali, Uganda, Indonesia, Trinidad & Tobago and Mozambique only slightly more (2 or 3 points). As all points are rounded off to the nearest full integer AND a domestic cup is always rated at least 1 point lower than a league title, the lowest rated countries only get 1 point for winning the league. While winning cups is registered, no points are awarded for them (although fluctuation in country ratings can eventually make future cups worth points again). These clubs are found at the bottom of the rankings, listed, but without ranking or points. Oh, and just because Scotland is seemingly the first port of call when people have issues with their top clubs' high ranking: in 2011 the Scottish Premier League lost points for the third year running, dropping it to a mere 25 for the SPL champions. Just to indicate how small the combined domestic points haul of the Old Firm is these days...
As one can see, domestic trophies are worth up to 100 points. Furthermore, the European Champions’ Cup is rated at 300 points, i.e. 3 times the value of the strongest league. While in the very strongest leagues the line of thinking might be that the league is the main prize, virtually every other club, country and supporter will know better. Allocating points for continental trophies is always tricky, because essentially one is asked to rate the relative importance of two different things. For the previously mentioned reasons, it is difficult to give a statistical defence for the chosen system, and the reason we love football is that we can all discuss things like this until we’re blue in the face. Nevertheless, taking all points of view, statistical data etc… on board, the European Cup is rated at just that: 3 times the strongest leagues, which in practice means 5 times the leagues of the sub-top like Portugal, the Netherlands etc… Clubs in those countries would in all probability settle for sacrificing a handful of league titles in exchange for The Big One.
Having set a basic value for a Champions Cup, the other continents are rated accordingly. South America weighs in at around 90%, Africa, Asia and North America at a fifth of Europe, Oceania at a mere fraction (and Australia’s departure to Asia doesn’t help in that respect). Furthermore, secondary continental cups (UEFA Cup, Copa Sudamericana) are rated at around 50% of the relevant Champions Cup. Copa Sudamericana has a higher relative rating than the UEFA Cup, due to the latter effectively being relegated to an “also-rans” cup, whereas the former is certain to feature CONMEBOL’s big teams. Once again, there isn’t a “one-size fits all” formula, although each individual competition does have a thought-out reasoning behind it’s historical and current rating, and is up for review every year (although continental competitions certainly don’t fluctuate much in value). The inception of the FIFA Club World Cup might, for instance, provide North American and African clubs with a platform to show their club football has gained in strength and reputation. If this is true over a given period of time, continental ratings might improve, and with it, the relevant domestic leagues. Until that time, the likes of Al-Ahly will have to accept that no matter how many African Champions League titles they obtain, both their continental rating and the domestic one which is relative to it, won't improve significantly. Mexico is a good example of how to break free from your confederation's restrictions: they've risen to the occasion when given the opportunity to play Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, proved to be up to the task, and as such the Mexican league is now measured by CONMEBOL standards, not CONCACAF ones, which makes it the only league in the world worth more than its native confederation's Champions' Cup (discounting Australia who have formally jumped ship to Asia).
The above is a basic explanation of the main points available to all clubs. Going back to the earlier reference to “relative success”, a simple ranking based on trophies won would suffice to separate the leading clubs from each other, but the category of clubs not used to regular domestic success would be ranked purely on the basis of the odd national trophy. It would mean winning the national cup once would rank a club comfortably above those finishing in the top half of the table, occasionally challenging for the title, and qualifying for continental competition. This was considered an undesirable side-effect of taking the black & white point of view that only winning should count. Nevertheless, at domestic level, this is still the case. No points for second place, but second place (and depending on the league the next few places as well) still yield a place in next season’s continental competition. It is there “progress points” are available. Participation in the first round proper (qualifying rounds don’t count) is, in principle, worth one point, doubling for every further round reached. A confederation’s Champions Cup yields twice as many bonus points as secondary competitions such as the UEFA Cup. Taking Europe as an example, reaching the Champions League final is rated at 64 points, the semi final at 32, quarters at 16 etc… For the UEFA Cup, it’s half those points.
Other confederations are given bonus points according to their relative rating to Europe. South America, where the Copa Libertadores is rated at ± 90% gets 7/8th of those points (56 for a final place), Africa, North America and Asia 1/8th. Due to this system, and the rounding off to full points, a club in the weaker confederations only receives bonus points from the 1/8th finals or quarter finals. All this is to maintain the ratio between domestic and continental success. Reaching the CL final, as the example shows, is worth less than a league title in the strong countries, very much like it will be perceived in those countries. Yet for stronger clubs in the weaker associations, merely getting to that stage often is a much bigger achievement than yet another notch on their title belt. The key point in this system is that barring exceptional circumstances (which no algorithm can legislate for), a club can distinguish itself from those in it’s own “category” by stringing together various impressive continental runs, but would need to actually start winning things to move on to the next level, to the elite that usually split the big trophies between them.
And below the clubs making regular runs in continental competition, there’s also a group that continue to be part of their country’s top division, without ever making much impact on a greater scale. Nonetheless, they are still rated above those who never make it to the top flight in the first place, by virtue of the smallest bonus point system in these rankings: that of top flight participation. Any club playing at the highest level is awarded 1/100th of the league’s title points. Effectively, this means 1 point per season for clubs in Serie A, La Liga, Premiership, and indeed all leagues that carry 50 points or more for the title (due to rounding off to the nearest full integer). As league values fluctuate over the years, it’s possible for a country to gain or lose those bonus points over time. Greece only qualified for these bonus points since 1997, Hungary lost theirs after 1973, the Netherlands had them between 1969 and 1982, but lost them after that, only to regain a rating of over 50% again after 1988.
Finally, some extra bonus points are available for events like double- and treble-winning clubs, winning the league unbeaten, retaining international trophies, etc… All of those come with their own set of conditions and restrictions. The end result is a ranking that is presented in a way displaying current position, position at the end of the previous calendar year, club name (and city name in brackets if not included in the actual club name), nation and confederation, points total, and the years in which a club last scored points, last won a trophy, as well as the year of the last major trophy win. Points are all points scored (including “nil” points for cup wins in the smallest countries), “last trophy” marks the last year in which any trophy was won, and “last major” indicates the last time a club won its domestic league, main national cup, or major continental cup (super cups, league cups etc… are considered “minor” trophies). A “major” trophy in one country may very well yield fewer points than a minor one or even bonus points in another, this is dependent on a country’s strength at the time.
Higher up the table, and depending on bandwidth usage, clubs’ badges are presented alongside their name, and the flag of the last country it scored points for is also displayed, along with the confederation’s logo to easily identify regional affiliation.
Clubs that have ceased to exist are presented in italics. Although great care has been taken to check, double-check and triple-check all data, a project of this size will inevitably always be subject to ongoing minor corrections, especially in the field of name changes and different clubs turning out to be one and the same. Every time two or more clubs merged, a separate, case-by-case judgement was made on whether or not it would start over as a new club (especially in Belgium, where clubs keep the ancient registration number of one of the clubs), or whether it would be seen as a continuation of the biggest club involved. Inevitably, rankings like these will cause debate in those areas.
Any comments, hints, questions, corrections etc… are most welcome. The original site at www.zelenazvezda.com used to have a discussion forum, until it came under permanent attack by spambots, which even triggered a temporary red-flag by Google. However, nowadays your reactions can be posted online again, through the blog mentioned in the navigation structure at the bottom of each page, or via info(at)clubworldrankings.com
(c) Mark de Vries , 1999-2010, All rights reserved. Page last modified: 19.02.2011.
Special thanks to Paulo Freitas for his invaluable insights in, and comments on Latin American football!
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