In A League Of Their Own

Two years ago, Rangers FC were demoted to the Scottish League Two, which is

actually the fourth tier in Scotland. Since then, the Scottish Premiership,
which has traditionally been dominated by two clubs, is dominated by only
one team, Celtic FC.

Last year, the race was actually quite close. Celtic won the championship
only four points ahead of Motherwell. But this season, the Glasgow club set
a new domestic record by clinching the league title with seven games left to
play. At the moment, Celtic hold a 25-point lead over Aberdeen. They have
lost only one game and conceded just 19 goals in 34 games.

Could it be that Celtic are on their way to becoming the most convincing
league champions ever? To answer that, we first have to define what
“convincing” means. Of course it’s a largely subjective classification, but
perhaps there are some objective criteria?

The best indicator of a team’s superiority is not necessarily their points
total, their win percentage or the number of goals they score. In some
leagues, two teams are so much better than the rest that they often rack up
record numbers in these departments but still have a fairly close rival.
Just think of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in Spain, who often collect 100
points or score more than 100 goals and yet usually find themselves in a
close race for the title.

Not even the fact that a team goes through an entire league season without
suffering a defeat automatically means that it has to be a very dominating
side. In 1979, Perugia Calcio didn’t lose a game in Italy’s Serie A, while
Milan lost three. But Milan finished first, Perugia came only second!

So it would seem that the best way to gauge dominance is the lead which a
team has over second place at the end of a season. The English record stands
at 18 points, set by Manchester United in 2000. Seven years later, Olympique
Lyonnais established the French record, winning Ligue 1 by 17 points over
Marseille. But even in such big, competitive leagues, leads of more than 20
points are not uncommon.

The Spanish record stands at 21 points and dates from 1963. (Real Madrid won
the title that year by 12 points under the old two-points-for-a-win rule.
However, using the modern three-point system, Real’s lead increases to 21
points, because second-placed Atlético Madrid had many draws.) The Italian
record was set, of course, by Il Grande Torino, as they called the
magnificent Torino side that tragically perished in the Superga air disaster
in 1949. Using today’s three-point rule, they won Serie A in 1947/48 by 24
points. But even that isn’t the heaviest total in a big European league. In
Germany, Bayern Munich won by a whopping 25-point margin in 2013.

This is a massive figure. Even many famous clubs which have gone through
long periods of total dominance – such as Espérance Sportive de Tunis who at
one point won seven Tunisian league titles in a row – can’t match this.
(Their biggest winning margin during that run was 19 points.) The same goes
for smaller leagues dominated by one team. Even when Rosenborg monopolised
the Norwegian title in the 1990s, they never won by more than 15 points. Or
take FBK Kaunas, who all but owned the Lithuanian title for a while. They
only won by 21 points in 2006.

In 2011, HJK Helsinki equalled Torino’s lead, winning the Veikkausliiga,
Finland’s top flight, 24 points ahead of Inter Turku. HJK contrived to lose
four games, in a 33-match season, yet still amassed this huge lead. This
puts HJK on a par, statistically speaking, with Il Grande Torino and only
one point behind Bayern’s all-conquering 2013 team and the current Celtic

However two of the world’s most famous clubs can do better than all of the
sides mentioned above. And easily so.

In 1972/73, Benfica won the Portuguese league 18 points ahead of Belenenses,
but under the modern three-points-for-a-win rule, that margin balloons to a
gigantic 32 points!

Benfica won every home match plus 13 away games – and drew the other two.
The Eagles won their first 23 matches of the season and didn’t drop a point
until All Fools’ Day 1974, when they were held 2-2 away at Porto, after
leading 2-1 with four minutes to go. During this beautiful season, Benfica
averaged 3.67 goals a game and, at the age of 31, the great Eusébio scored
40 goals to win the Golden Boot.

More than thirty years later, in 2004/05, mighty Al-Ahly from Cairo almost
tied Benfica. The team won the Egyptian Premier League an amazing 31 points
ahead of ENPPI Sporting Club. Like Benfica in 1973, Al-Ahly didn’t lose a
game and drew only two. However, they played four games less than the
Portugese. (There were 16 teams in what was then called the Primeira Divisão
in Portugal but only 14 teams in Egypt in 2005.)

Whether that means Al-Ahly were actually more convincing in 2005 than
Benfica had been in 1973, I really don’t know. True, if there had been
another four rounds of games, the Egyptians might have pushed their lead
past the 31-point mark. Or maybe not. Maybe they would have finally lost a
game? We just don’t know.

But what is beyond doubt is that Celtic still have a long, long way to go
before they can even be compared to the most dominating club sides ever.

© IFFHS 2014

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