THE BLOG
12/05/2014 07:34 BST | Updated 11/07/2014 06:59 BST

The Demise of Competition: Why Atletico Deserve Our Support

Manchester City's second league title in three years is guaranteed to incite accusations of their success being 'bought'. They've spent over £530m on transfers in the last five years and were recently revealed to be the highest paying sports team in the world.

It's widely accepted that a club's wage bill is the true indicator of how successful it should be. This season's Bundesliga demonstrates this perfectly. The highest salary paying team - Bayern Munich - finished first, the second highest - Dortmund - finished second, and the third highest - Schalke - finished third.

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Italy follows the same pattern. Juventus and Roma, the two highest paying clubs, will finish first and second respectively. Although, as the table shows, Napoli buck this trend they do have players on very high salaries, including Gonzalo Higuain - the highest paid player in the league (£4.5m a year).

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The Premier League also follows this guide with Manchester City and Chelsea both finishing in the positions that match their wage bills. Liverpool, like Napoli, prove there is hope for the more frugal teams. Ultimately, though, despite playing significantly fewer games than their rivals Liverpool still couldn't overcome their financial disadvantage.

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Out of the major European leagues, only Spain provide us with an anomaly with the top three teams appearing in the reverse order of their position in the salary league table. If you look at La Liga over the past decade, however, it is clear that this year is far from the norm. In fact, if Atletico do go on to win the league it will be the first time neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona won since Valencia did it ten years ago.

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It's not just the major leagues where this is the case either. The same is true in Portugal, Holland, France, Greece, Scotland and others. It proves just how impressive an achievement it would be for Diego Simeone's side to win a league title - perhaps even more so than if they were to win the Champions League later this month.

While there is a clear correlation between paying the highest salaries and league success, the same rules don't apply, or at least not as strongly, in European competitions. Only once in the last five years (Barcelona in 2011) has the highest wage paying team won the Champions League, or even made it to the final.

Over the same period in the Europa League, only Chelsea's triumph last year demonstrated a victory for the club paying the highest average salary.

Domestic cup competitions provide similar results. This year's FA Cup, Coupe de France, Coppa Italia, KNVB Cup, Russian Cup, Greek Cup and others have all been (or will all be) won by teams that did not pay the highest salaries (the DFP Pokal and Taça de Portugal could also follow this pattern when they conclude later this month).

Are cup competitions, then, the last bastions of equality and true competition left in elite football? Or is the trend merely indicative of apathy towards knockout tournaments? Either way, it puts into perspective the recent achievements of clubs like Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Wolfsburg, FC Twente and Dortmund. Plenty of English fans delighted in the schadenfreude of Liverpool's late-season collapse but it's to the detriment of the sport the underdogs don't succeed more often. Regardless of club loyalties we should be able to enjoy the unlikely success of clubs with significant financial disadvantages.

Sources: Sporting Intelligence; Transfermarkt; Gazzetta dello Sport; club financial accounts.