Ranking Football Clubs Around The Globe

Officially, there is no world ranking of club-level football, as for example for national teams. But wouldn't it be nice to see how your favorite club compares to teams around the globe? Over several years, we gathered results of football matches in over 200 countries of more than 7000 teams. We adapted the FIFA ranking to fit club-level football to provide an always up-to-date (Our ranking is updated every Tuesday) ranking of teams around the globe.

FIFA published their first world ranking of national teams in 1993. The ranking is since then perpetually under scrutiny by fans, media and, often self-proclaimed, domain experts. The majority of criticism targets the calculation procedure and the resulting discordance between perceived quality and ranking of several nations. Belgium’s surprising rank as world number 1 in November 2015, although they had only participated in one major tournament between 2003 and 2015, is just one of many examples.

Yet, a critical and easily overlooked point is the infrequent match schedule. National teams only play a few relevant games a year, if at all. Determining a meaningful ranking with such a little amount of data is challenging to begin with. Thus, the question is if the observed irregularities stem from the inadequacy of the ranking scheme, or are simply an artifact of the sparse data basis.

We adapted FIFA’s ranking scheme to club-level football to see if the mentioned points of criticism also hold on a larger body of games. The world team ranking on our page should thus not be deemed as a try to accurately rank club-level football around the world, but rather as an experiment on the effectiveness of the underlying method. A more detailed description of our approach is given in the following. If you want to go directly to the ranking, use the bottom below.

The current version of the FIFA Ranking was introduced after the FIFA World Cup in 2006. The revised ranking system dropped several variables, including home field advantage and goals parameter, from the calculation to simplify the procedure. The number of points awarded per game now only depends on four factors: The result of the match (\(M\)), its importance (\(I\), and the strength of the opponent and confederation (UEFA, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, AFC, CAF or OFC) respectively (\(T\) and \(C\)). The awarded points per game are then calculated with $$ P=M\times I\times T \times C. $$

The factor \(M\) awards points for victory (3 points) and victory by penalty shoot-out (2 points), draw (1 point), defeat (0 points) and defeat by penalty shoot-out (1 point).

The importance factor weighs games of varying priority, including friendly matches (\(I=1.0\)), World Cup and continental qualifiers (\(I=2.5\)), continental final competitions and FIFA Confederations Cup (\(I=3.0\)) and World Cup final competition (\(I=4.0\)).

The strength of the opponent is calculated by its position in the most recently published ranking, i.e. $$ T=(200-\text{ranking of opponent}). $$ Exceptions are the top team of the ranking which is assigned the value \(200\) and teams ranked below \(150\) are given the minimum strength of \(50\).

The confederations multiplier is calculated on the basis of the last three FIFA World Cups. First, the average number of points (1=win, 0.5=draw) a confederation achieved in inter-confederation matches at the last three World Cups are added up and averaged again. After the World Cup 2014, these calculations were $$ avg_{06-14}(x)={avg_{06}(x)+avg_{10}(x)+avg_{14}(x) \over 3} $$ where \(x\) is one of UEFA, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, AFC, CAF, OFC. The factor \(C\) is then calculated for each confederation on the basis of the best performing confederation as $$ C(x)=max\Biggl({\sqrt[4]{avg_{06-14}(x) \over max (avg_{06-14}(x))}},0.85\Biggr). $$ The lowest confederations factor possible thus is 0.85. The below table shows the current and historic values of the confederation factor.

Confederation 2014-2018 2010-2014 2006-2010 before 2006
UEFA 0.99 1.00 1.00 1.00
CONMEBOL 1.00 1.00 0.98 1.00
CONCACAF 0.85 0.88 0.85 0.88
AFC 0.85 0.86 0.85 0.85
CAF 0.85 0.86 0.85 0.85
CAF 0.85 0.85 0.85 0.85

The lower limit of 0.85 was chosen to ensure that top teams from weaker confederations still have the opportunity to attain a high rank. The multiplier used for inter-confederation matches is set to the average of both confederations.

Points for all matches played in a year are averaged together, where the number of games has to be at least 5: $$ avgPoints={Points \over max(games,5)} $$ To obtain the current ranking, the average points of the last four years are aggregated, weighted decreasingly (1.0, 0.5, 0.3 and 0.2) to put more emphasis on recent matches. The ranking is published on a monthly basis, usually on the first Thursday.

Several adjustments have to be made to make FIFA's ranking procedure reasonably applicable to club level football.

Strength parameter. To have the strength parameter \(T\) on the same scale as for national teams, we map all rankings to the interval \([1,200]\) before calculating its value. The mapping function varies for each ranking period, since not all teams are continuously active (e.g. get relegated). The mapping is done, so that the aggregated scores of clubs fall into a comparable range as for national teams. Without the mapping, points would be heavily inflated. For example, winning against the top ranked club when 3000 teams are active yields more than 9000 points.

Necessary number of games. The minimum number of games for the average point calculation is set to 14. The value is chosen, such that teams are required to participate at least in a league with 8 teams playing a double round-robin tournament.

Country strength factor. The confederations factor \(C\) is turned into a country based factor which is recalculated each year in July. Its calculation is carried out in the same way, substituting World Cup matches with intra-confederation games (e.g. UEFA Champions League) and the FIFA Club World Cup of the preceding four years, excluding qualifier matches for tournaments. The exclusion is done to prevent an overestimation of the strength of mediocre leagues, which perform well in the qualification round playing against minor teams but do not play any role in the actual tournament.

Match importance factor. Since our dataset does not contain friendly matches, we do not allocate 1 to any kind of matches. All domestic league matches are weighted by 2, independent from countries and confederation. Matches in second-tier international cups such as the UEFA Europe League are weighted by 2.5 for qualification stages, and by 3 for main event games. For top-tier international cups such as the UEFA Champions League, we choose the same break down of matches, however weighted by 3 and 4, respectively.

Aggregation. Instead of using the last four years of match results, we only consider two years worth of matches for any given ranking period. The weight of matches decreases every half a year according to FIFA's weighting scheme (1, 0.5, 0.3, 0.2).

Soccerverse is by far not the only platform publishing football rankings. Below you find a collection of other pages that publish official and unofficial rankings of the world or parts of it.

An official Club ranking in Europe is the UEFA Club Coefficient, used for seeding in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. Similar official rankings exist for example for the Asian Football Confederation, AFC, and the Confederation of African Football, CAF.

clubelo.com uses the Elo rating system to rank all teams of the UEFA. The Elo system is a pretty simple formula, which makes it a very popular rating method in several sports. Developed for chess, it has since been used for NBA, NFL and tennis among others. There also exists a version for national teams as an unofficial counterpart of the FIFA world ranking.

Another Ranking for European football is the Euro Club Index. In its essence it is also related to the Elo system. Although the Euro Club Index and Clubelo have a similar underlying procedure, they produce slightly different rankings. Exploring these differences is certainly worthwhile.

A world-wide ranking is provided by footballdatabase.com. This ranking is yet again based on the Elo system and described in their methodology section. A very different approach is taken by clubworldranking.com. The side provides a world-wide ranking based on the ATP ranking procedure in tennis.

If you check all these ranking sides, you will notice subtle differences in all rankings. But which one is the most accurate? Is it even possible to judge that? Regardless of accuracy, world rankings are fun and provide enough fuel for conflict for heated discussions among football fans around the globe.