May 7, 2008

National Leagues

Nearly every country has some sort of league and is involved with UEFA, the governing body of European soccer. Some of the larger countries have multiple leagues that can change through relegation and promotion. Top tier leagues will send their champions to either the Champions League or the UEFA Cup depending on the status of the league. Most leagues in Europe start in August and run through May.

National Cups

In addition to leagues, most counties also have a country-wide tournament each year. For some of the top countries, their cup champion automatically qualifies for competition in Europe either in the Champions League or UEFA Cup.

Champions League

The Champions League is a tournament taking the best of the club teams in Europe and pitting them against each other to find out the champion of all of Europe. It involves both a qualifying round and then the actual tournament. The major leagues will submit multiple teams to the Champions League while other countries may send one or none. This depends on the overall status of the league at the end of each season based on the UEFA coefficient. The Champions League is not only a showcase for the top clubs in Europe, but also a place where leagues can see how they stand up against other leagues. Both Champions League and UEFA Cup matches are played in addition to the clubs normal league schedule and are played throughout the normal season.


The UEFA Cup is the second level tournament for European teams. This is a place for champions of some of the smaller country’s leagues can play against some of the second level teams in the major leagues. While it may not have the big name clubs playing each season, it is still seen as a reward for clubs who get to play against other European teams and more importantly, make more money for their clubs. At the beginning of each season, the previous years champions for the UEFA Cup and Champions League play each other in the UEFA Super Cup.

Relegation & Promotion

In countries that have more than one league, teams can move leagues through promotion and relegation. The bottom team or teams in a league will move down to the next division and teams are then moved up to replace them. This adds an additional level of excitement at the end of each season, not only to see who a league champ will be, but who will avoid getting relegated.


Instead of trading players between teams, players are actually purchased for cash instead. In addition, transfers can happen across leagues, so a player on an English club can be transferred to a Spanish club. Transfers are only allowed during specific periods in the year.


England has the largest collection of professional leagues in Europe with 4 levels governed by the FA (The Football Association). They consist of the Premier League, aka the Premiership or EPL, and the three levels of the Football League, the Championship, League One and League Two. The Premier League is arguably the most well known league world wide and contains such teams as Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. Relegation and promotion works between each of the divisions meaning that a League Two club could move up through the leagues to the Premiership, happening at the end of each season.

England also hosts one of the most entertaining tournaments in all of sports each year, the FA Cup. All of the teams in all four levels participate in the tournament in addition to pretty much any organized club throughout England. The Carling Cup, aka League Cup, is similar to the FA Cup but only allows teams in the top 4 levels for a total of 92 teams. The FA Cup had 731 teams participate in the 2007-08 tournament.


Germany’s soccer leagues are known as the Bundesliga with two levels of competition. Starting in 2008, a third division will be added with relegation and promotion between the three leagues. Bayern Munich is the most well known German club with other popular clubs being Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04.

Germany’s annual cup competition is DFB-Pokal and consists of the 36 professional teams, the last 4 relegated teams out of the Bundesliga and then 24 semi-pro and amatuer teams that compete in touraments to get their bid.


Spanish soccer consists of two levels of professional clubs, La Liga and Segunda Division. Spanish soccer is seen as some of the best in the world and clubs such as Barcelona and Real Madrid are well known throughout the world.

The Spanish cup competition is the Copa del Ray. Only club teams from the professional divisions are allowed in the tournament each year.


France has two professional divisions, Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 with relegation and promotion between the two leagues for three clubs each season. Recently the most popular and successful club in France has been Olympique Lyonnais or just Lyon.

The French cup competition is the Coupe de France. This competition is open to any professional or non-professional team in France and is always played at the lower ranked team’s stadium, giving the underdog home field advantage.


Italy has 4 levels of professional soccer, Serie A, Serie B, Serie C1 and Serie C2. The top teams in Italy are also well known through the world, including AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus.

The Italian cup is the Coppa Italia and includes 42 professional teams seeded based on the previous year’s finish.


The Scottish Premier League consists of 12 teams and has two of the more popular clubs in the world, Celtic and the Rangers. There is a well known and fierce rivalry between the two clubs which helps make the league standout overall.

The cup championship is known as the Scottish Cup and includes professional and junior teams.


As mentioned at the top of the article, there are many other leagues throughout Europe.  If you are curious about more of them, I would recommend going to the Current UEFA Coefficient rankings and checking out some of the other country’s league sites.