With the finalists of the three European club competitions set, we analyzed how squad and individual player values reflect the competitions’ relative strength. The assessment is based on Football Benchmark’s updated player value estimates.
The current football season introduced a new cycle in UEFA club competitions, including a shake up in the format of the UEFA Europa League (UEL) and the introduction of a third tournament, the UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL). The changes primarily aim to provide a new platform so that more teams can be involved in international football. At the same time, the change offers these teams broader exposure and better monetary rewards. (In a previous article, we analyzed the financial background and the incentives of these tournaments.)
Nevertheless, while over 180 clubs from more than 50 UEFA member associations participated in the new UECL tournament in its inaugural season (including qualifiers), the share of clubs from higher-ranked associations has grown as the competition advanced to its final stages, similarly to the other two competitions. By the semi-finals stage, almost all participants of the three tournaments were clubs from the top five European football leagues. Our chart shows the number of Big 5 vs non-Big 5 clubs in the knock-out stages of the three UEFA club tournaments (2021-22).
In the UEL, Scottish champions Rangers FC, while in the UECL Dutch side Feyenoord were the only teams outside the Big 5 leagues among the semi-finalists. In addition, both clubs managed to progress to the final, overcoming more valuable opponents. A European trophy would be the perfect prize for the Glasgow-based club that celebrates their 150th anniversary this year. It has also been exactly 50 years ago that Rangers collected their only European trophy to date, winning the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1972. Feyenoord’s most recent international success was a UEFA Cup in 2001–02.
Looking at the total squad values of the semi-finalists of the three tournaments, we find further evidence for the trend of concentration of power.
Firstly, it demonstrates again the obvious supremacy of the UCL in value and prestige. Indeed, the aggregate value of the UCL final four sides is more than that of the eight semi-finalists’ in the other two competitions combined. The UCL’s final stages are essentially a closed shop for Europe’s elite clubs – even a Big-5 side as Villarreal this year are more of a surprise participant, also reflected by their squad value, which is around half of the other three sides’. In addition, looking at the past five seasons, we find only Ajax making the UCL semi-finals once from a league outside the Big 5.
Secondly, the above comparison also reveals that squad value differences between the UEL and the UECL gradually disappear as the tournaments progress to their final stages, with top five 5 league representatives making it farther in the competitions.
Tottenham Hotspur were a major outlier this season: despite being the most valuable club of the recent UECL campaign, they dropped out early in the group stage, mainly since their game against Rennes in December last year was cancelled due to numerous positive COVID-19 cases in the Tottenham squad and was awarded as a 3–0 win to the French side.
It is also interesting to see that in five of the six semi-final ties, the side with a lower squad value could win and progress to the final. The only exception was Liverpool overcoming Villarreal, who have a squad valued at less than half of the overall value of the Reds.
The value ranking of the top players of these clubs further reflects the hierarchy of the three tournaments.
In this year’s UCL final between Real Madrid and Liverpool – a rematch of the 2018 final – the Reds may have a slight advantage if overall player values are measured.
Considering the most likely starting IX in a 4-3-3 formation for both sides, Liverpool may seem more potent especially in defense: the aggregate value of their probable defensive line is EUR 276m, compared to Real’s back line worth EUR 197m. Their top three strikers are worth EUR 247m, slightly more than those of Real Madrid at EUR 242m. Regarding the midfields, Liverpool’s players boast a combined value of EUR 115m, while Real’s midfielders are valued at EUR 88m – acknowledging that in our propriety player valuation model, Luka Modric and all other players whose contract is set to expire before the next transfer window (or 1st July 2022) are assigned zero value.
The two goalkeepers represent a similar class – they are also the two most valuable keepers in football today, with Liverpool’s Alisson being valued at EUR 75m, while Real’s Thibaut Courtois at EUR 72m.
It is also worth noting that Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold is currently the most valuable defender in world football – with a remarkable EUR 54m rise in value since Feb 2019. Similarly, Real Madrid striker Vinícius Júnior boasts an increase of EUR 92m in the same timeframe.