THE Scottish Premier League can be deemed up there with the biggest and best that European football has to offer this season.
Unfortunately, that is down only to the absence of anything approaching a title race. The procession to the championship that is ongoing for Celtic, who have established an insurmountable 15-point gap without great strain, mirrors precisely what is happening across all four of the big leagues: Spain, England, Germany and Italy.
For the first time in living memory, all of these set-ups simultaneously appear incapable of serving up much in the way of final-week dramas, only a year on since the final seconds of the English Premier League bore witness to a remarkable denouement that allowed Manchester City to snatch the title from Manchester United.
As if driven on by that trauma, Alex Ferguson’s men appear to be on course to eclipse their own record points margin for a championship success – an 18-point total in 2000 – in currently holding a 15-point advantage over a faltering City.
Yet, even the stroll Manchester United are enjoying pales into insignificance when compared to the 20-point chasm that separates Bundesliga champions-elect Bayern Munich and defending title holders Borussia Dortmund.
In Spain, Real Madrid have given up retaining their crown in sliding 13 points behind Barcelona. Meanwhile, it is positively nip and tuck in Italy, where Juventus are struggling to main a double-digit cushion over nearest rivals. They only had a nine-point lead…
Yet, while at least there are mitigating circumstances for the one-horse race in our country, with no Rangers brand in the set-up, Europe’s leading quartet have no such excuses for the lack of competitiveness at the top of their tables. Curiously, those clubs that sit atop three of them, as with Celtic in Scotland, have been dominant forces in their countries across the past decade.
Celtic are about to clinch their sixth title in ten years; ditto Barcelona, with Bayern and United about to wrap up their fifth titles in that same period. For Juventus, their impending success will bring them a second straight championship. A decade that brought Italy’s most prolific Serie A team’s demotion and denouncement over cheating did not deliver them any other successes they have been allowed to retain.
As commercial enterprises, lop-sided league campaigns at the summit aren’t considered good for business. Yet, to see a German team skooshing the Bundesliga as Munich are doing currently, isn’t as unusual as might be believed in a nation where financial regulations are in place to stimulate a degree of parity. Indeed, of the top four European leagues, historically the title-winning margins in Germany are greater than the other three countries. In reality, as is often wearily related in the country, the destination of the league title only really becomes unpredictable when Munich, whose infrastructure dwarfs all their rivals, take a title holiday. With extra focus this year following Dortmund’s back-to-back championships, Bayern have blown away a side that have proved one of the most compelling performers in this season’s Champions League.
With both German teams vying for semi-final places in the prestigious tournament this month, the complexion of that league campaign is altogether different to what is taking place in England. Neither Manchester clubs made the desired impression on the Champions League, but no other English teams could put together a title challenge worthy of the term. In Spain, the dynamic is pretty much a duopoly that could swing back towards Real Madrid from Barcelona next season, while Juventus, bolstered by Champions League financial returns, could be in a position to dominate domestically for a while through operating in an environment wherein their rivals are relatively financially weak.
The differences between the one team that might have and any other have-nots is nowhere near as pronounced in any of Europe’s foremost leagues as in Scotland, of course.
However, points differentials from top to bottom are beginning to suggest disparities much like those in this country’s top flight. Yet, while it would be no surprise were Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus out of sight in their top flights come next autumn again, neither is it impossible that they could be toppled by a serious challenge. That is where the Scottish Premier League goes its own way. It is impossible to see how Celtic could even be given something to think about on their way to bagging titles for the foreseeable future.
If that situation were to be replicated across the big four, it would be interesting to see whether it prompted means to address the profound erosion of the very uncertainties on which sport is cast.
The financial fair play rules being introduced by UEFA lack the teeth to make a major impact. Americans like to sneer at the unfettered capitalism inherent in “Europe’s free market soccer”, believing it can only ultimately end up imploding.
Maybe moneyed football leagues are the new banks. Right now, some of the grandees are certainly sitting on massive deposits of the currency that counts.