Competitveness is a Matter of Perspective
So I read with interest Paul Wilson's recent article in the Guardian claiming that this year's odds on sorry little Hull City's winning the Premiership (10,000 to 1, since you ask) are so much worse than the odds of the weakest teams in Serie A and La Liga winning their leagues (1,000 to 1, he says) are proof that the Premiership is the least competitive league in Europe thanks to all this money.
Let's assume for the moment that the pre-season odds of winning are a reasonable method of gauging competitiveness. Is looking at the odds of the weakest team really the best way to look at the competitiveness of a league? That seems weak - when was the last time a promoted team won the championship? I can think of several others that might make more sense.
For instance, one could measure it by the odds given to the strongest team - that is, by asking the question: how certain is the eventual winner before the season even starts?By this measure, England is actually the most competitive major league in Europe. Man U is currently quoted (according to football-data.co.uk) at 1.8, Inter at 1.45, PSV at 1.375, Real Madrid at 1.2, Lyon at .72, Porto at .57 and Bayern at a mind-boggling low .5.
Alternatively, one could measure it by asking how likely is it that there will be as many as three teams in the hunt for the title? Here, too, England does reasonably well: Arsenal at 6-1 are not as good as Benfica at 4.5-1, Roma at 5-1, or Bordeaux at 5.5-1, but is better than Feyenoord at 7-1, Schalke at 10-1 or Atletico at an amazing 22-1 (so much for Spain being the continent's most competitve league...)
What about competitiveness for Champions League spots? How good are the odds for the team with the fifth-shorted odds in each country? Now the case for England as less competitive gets better: Villareal's 25-1 is the best of the bunch (oo! competitive again!) followed by St. Etienne at 33-1, Twente at 40-1, Fiorentina and Wolfsburg at 50-1, Spurs at 60-1 and Vit Guimares at 80-1.
But then again, there is more to football than the top five. Let's see the odds for the teams that are at or just above the median in each country; that is, the ninth-shortest odds in each league. Here again, the case against England gets stronger: France's Stade Rennais is shortest at 66-1, NEC is at 125-1, Vit. Setubal at 150-1, Hannover at 160-1, Racing Santander at 300-1 and Newcastle and Palermo at 500-1.
As for the odds of the weakest team: Portugal's Trofense gets 500-1, Heracles, Grenoble and Bologna get 1000-1, Gijon 1250, Cottbus 1500 and Hull 10,000 (though one can at least suspect that the odds on Hull have more to do with the gimmicky habits of English bookies than anything else).
So the English league is certainly unforgiving to teams in the bottom half and the top 4 so seem to be set almost in stone (of the big leagues, Spain's seems to have the most porous top 4). But by the same token, England is arguably the European league where the identity of the winner is least predictable.
Does that make them more competitive? You be the judge.