Are merged domestic leagues the way forward for smaller footballing nations?

Eredivisie 2019/20: Twente vs Heerenveen -tactical analysis -tactics

The recent news that the respective Football Associations of Belgium and the Netherlands are considering combining the two countries’ elite domestic competitions has been met with a mixed response.

While in the UK, Welsh teams Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham and Newport compete in the English football pyramid, alongside several similar examples across Europe, the outright merger of two competitions to form a single league structure is a totally different concept.

In this article, we will explore the reasoning behind the proposals and the benefits that a combined competition could deliver, alongside the possible negatives of such a fundamental move – one that would essentially end a major chapter in both nations’ footballing histories.

Why is this being considered?

The proposed ‘BeNe Liga’ (BeNe is a contraction of Belgium Netherlands) would see the top nine clubs from both competitions come together to form a single 18-club round-robin competition, removing those names from the domestic game.

The remaining teams from each nation’s top division would also be invited to come together to form a second-tier competition that would feed into the top tier through a promotion and relegation format that is still to be finalised.

The hope is that by combining the two nations’ top clubs, a league can be created that is at a similar level to Europe’s major competitions, such as the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga.

Unfortunately, neither division presently boasts the depth of quality to rank alongside the better-known competitions, meaning the value of the competition to broadcasters is modest, while its UEFA ranking is also much lower, meaning the path to elite European competition is tougher for member clubs.

Teams like Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV from the Netherlands, and sides including Anderlecht, Brugge and Genk from Belgium, have proven themselves capable of competing with the top teams in Europe, but beyond those bigger names, the quality of player doesn’t compare to other countries.

Could it bring the top players back?

Despite the weaknesses of the two competitions, Belgium and Netherlands continue to produce an outstanding quality of player, to the extent that the two national sides are among the best in the world, with the Belgian side presently ranked number one by FIFA.

In the UK, Kevin de Bruyne is ranked as one of the best creative players and his contributions for Manchester City during the last six years have played a key role in the club’s establishment among the favourites in the Premier League betting markets. They’re priced at an overwhelming 1/500 to win this year’s competition.

And although the formation of the BeNe Liga would not immediately bring players like de Bruyne back closer to home, the higher frequency of fixtures between better quality teams would create a much more attractive proposition of players of his calibre who currently compete elsewhere in Europe on a week-to-week basis.

Though a decision is yet to be finalised, and while we await the final details, other nations across Europe will undoubtedly be watching on with interest. Combined leagues in Poland and Ukraine, in Norway and Sweden, and in Eastern Europe could all become attractive options if this brave concept is a success.