In talking about European clichés, there was one I left out: Europe’s Big Five leagues. For a while now, the line between elite and good leagues has been drawn below France, with Italy, Germany, Spain and England sitting above Ligue 1.
But just as the upcoming changes in UEFA’s rankings are going to force us to change how we look at the top of Europe, so it will change the concept of big five. At least, it will change the concept, if the world chooses to take note of Portugal’s new standing.
Thanks in large part to the league’s amazing results in last year’s Europa League (where the Primeira placed three teams in the competition’s semifinals), Portugal’s Liga will pass France for fifth in the 2012-13 UEFA coefficient. The bump won’t get the league any new Champions League or Europa spots, but as we’ve discussed in referencing the European Golden Shoe, there are still a few places where the concept of a big five has meaning.
Europe’s award for the federation’s top goalscorer, the Golden Shoe isn’t necessarily awarded for goals; rather, the number of goals a player scores is multiplied by a modifier, the resulting points deciding who wins the award. If you’re playing in one of Europes top five leagues, your total is multiplied by two. Sixth through 21st? 1.5 is the multiplier. Next year, the likes of Benfica’s Oscar Cardozo and Braga’s Lima will get the boost, while Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud won’t.
The whole idea of such a static dividing line is a bit faulty. That Portugal’s strong run in Europa League could lead to such significant changes implies as much.
But it’s only the Golden Shoe. It’s a random award cared about by few, important to fewer. The more salient issue is why ideas like Big Two (Barcelona, Real Madrid), Three (England, Spain, Italy), Four (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United), Five (England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France), and Six (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, United, and Tottenham) settle into the lexicon. When I talk to fellow soccer fans, I don’t get the feeling anybody’s scared of more the nuanced, grey areas at the fringes of these groups.
Of course, it’s much easier to type “Big Six” than “the big teams, plus Newcastle, but minus Liverpool, for now.” And perhaps this doesn’t need to be said, but never underestimate the ability of the written word to define the lexicon. Just because it’s easier to cut a corner and type “big five leagues” doesn’t mean that’s the most accurate reflection of reality.
Particularly going forward. For a while, when you read “big five leagues,” the author’s probably going to be alluding to a group that includes France but not Portugal. And given the relative drawing powers of the two leagues, there is an argument for keeping France at that tier. However, it’s better to think of those waters as murky. Where possible, we shouldn’t be afraid to lump France and Portugal together, rather than placing them on different sides of a great, manufactured divide.