No shame in 2nd
Wherever you look in Europe, there are newly-promoted teams who are impressing in the highest division. In England, Wolves already look set to challenge for a top-half finish. The Austrian Bundesliga has been lit up by TSV Hartberg’s enterprising approach in their first-ever top-flight season. And in Norway, Ranheim are sixth having been as high as second during the summer.
While many teams invest upon promotion, this trend – which is repeated each year with different teams – shows that it’s less interesting to talk about the gap between a country’s top two divisions, and more interesting to talk about the overlap.
In France, for example, our analysis suggests that there are five Ligue 2 clubs that would be competitive in Ligue 1 if they were promoted today. That they are in a different divisions is an accident of league design, not necessarily a reflection of quality.
There are a couple of implications from this. Firstly, top division clubs may not recognise that there are some second tier clubs where the level of play is comparable to teams in their own league. These second division clubs might be good loan destinations for young players – while the quality of opposition on matchday might be weaker, the standard during training sessions wouldn’t be.
Another obvious angle is recruitment. If the market mentally lumps together second division teams and assigns them a largely similar quality, they may undervalue certain teams – and by extension players – that should really be categorised as at a first division level. Indeed we find the overlaps are even greater as you go down the pyramid in each country, and our Acquisition tool is currently helping clubs identify those overlaps.
Over a century ago, football’s governing bodies decided that divisions that lasted a year were a good way of organising competitions. They were probably right to do so, but there’s no reason that their decisions should influence how we fundamentally understand the sport.