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It's common to refer to the five biggest European football leagues as the Big Five.

The four first leagues are:

According to the European football competition results, who the fifth is may vary.

TL;DR

As we can see, there is no strongly established fifth as it can change over the years, and the 5th, 6th, and 7th are very close on their results and far away from the first four. So who is the fifth and how is it decided?

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    It is perhaps worth mentioning that the Wikipedia article Big Five mentions Ligue 1: "the world’s most prestigious national football leagues (the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1)". Link to the current revision. – Martin Jun 4 '17 at 11:22
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French Ligue 1 is de-facto considered to be in top 5 for several reasons:

  • It is more competitive (stats as of 2017/18 season):
  • Average attendance is higher (stats as of 2017/18 season):
    • French Ligue 1 (which has 20 teams): 22,524
    • Dutch Eredivisie (18 teams): 19,001
    • Russian Premier League (16 teams): 13,956
    • Portuguese Primeira Liga (18 teams): 11,967
  • Higher salaries:

  • And finally, probably because France is a bigger player in European and World football as a two-time champion of the World Cup and two-time champion of European Championship whereas the others in question winning only European Championship once. (Although, national team strength does not necessarily imply the strength of its league, at some degree it can be the judging factor why French Ligue 1 is in the top Eureopean Five).

Besides that, the only practical scenario when being in top 5 actually matters is when deciding the winner of prestigious Golden Shoe award:

Golden Shoe is awarded based on a points system where the weightings are determined by the league's ranking on the UEFA coefficients. Goals scored in the top five leagues are multiplied by a factor of two, so players in tougher leagues have better chances to win.

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The answer is Ligue 1. As you point out, this isn't necessarily justified on the basis of results in European competitions. There are a couple of other factors which weigh into this discussion though:

  • While very difficult to show, the impression is that the wages paid by Ligue 1 clubs are significantly higher than those in the Primeira Liga or Eredivisie. I'm not sure how true this is for the Russian Premier League who have a reputation for overpaying in an attempt to attract talent (much like say MLS in the US).
  • The depth of Ligue 1 is greater than that of the other leagues you mention - taking for example the Primeria Liga, three clubs (Benfica, Porto and Sporting) have won all but two of the titles. Once you get beyond those three, there's a big step down in quality.

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