Soccer leagues: a short introduction

So one of the things most people ask me about are the different leagues.  There’s a lot of them, and if you’re a sometime observer and not an actual full-time follower, it can be hard to keep track of them.  Even more so if you’re not in Europe.

So I’ve decided to clarify some.

The easiest way to differentiate them is to know that basically, each league is from a separate country.  UEFA, which I get asked about a lot, isn’t a league.  It’s a competition held that includes the top teams from all European leagues.

So here’s a quick look:

1. Spain: La Liga. Although commonly known as La Liga, the full title is the Primera División (First Division) of the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional (LFP).  Twenty teams play for the title.  Every season, the three lowest teams are sent down to the Second Division, while the three best teams from there are brought up to the First.  There are many well-known teams in this league, including Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Sevilla, Villa Real, and Atlético Madrid.  According to Wikipedia, La Liga has four of the most successful teams in European competition history: Valencia, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid.  Barcelona, commonly known as Barça, also has the most UEFA Champions League wins.

2. England: Premier League. The Premiere league runs similar to La Liga: twenty teams compete for the title, and the three lowest teams are sent down to the Football League Championship, while the two top teams, along with the winner of a play-off held between the teams placed 3rd to 6th, are moved into the Premier League.  Games are broadcast to over 600 million people in 200 countries.  Well-known clubs include: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Aston villa.

3. Germany: Fußball-Bundesliga. Similar to the other leagues, the bundesliga is divided into two divisions: 1. Bundesliga (also known as First Bundesliga) and 2. Bundesliga (Second Bundesliga).  This league also works on promotion and relegation: the top two teams of the Second League are promoted to the First, while the lowest two teams of the first are relegated to the Second.  The most well-known German clubs include Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Hamburger SV, Werder Bremen, Schalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen and VfB Stuttgart.

4. Italy: Serie A. Italy’s football league, Serie A, has been around since 1898, and began the round-robin format in 1929.  Currently, twenty teams play for the title, with teams promoted and relegated to Serie B.  It’s host to three of the world’s most famous clubs: Juventus, A.C. Milan, and Inernazionale (known as Inter or Inter Milan).

5. North America: MLS (Major League Soccer). Composed of 19 teams, MLS is both in the US (16 teams) and Canada (3 teams).  Unlike most other leagues, there is no second tier for teams to be relegated into – all teams, including the lower-ranked ones, compete the following season.  Although originally the rules deviated some from the standard, they were all reverted back after the 1999 season, to international soccer standards.  Unlike all other leagues (again!!), the season runs spring-to-fall, and conflicts with events such as the CONCACAF Wold Cup and FIFA World Cup, which causes many players to abandon their teams to play in the tournaments.

So yes, those are the ones I get asked about the most.  Of course, there are many, many more, as most countries have a league of some sort.  Hopefully that was at least a little helpful!!  With the hundreds of teams around, keeping track of them may be confusing. Once you add in all the international and cross-league tournaments, it makes it even more complicated.  I’ll try and do a post on all those tournaments tomorrow.