Guide to The Biggest Football Leagues

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There’s a good chance if you’re reading this that you’re a football fan. Whether you have a passing interest or a fanatic, it’s difficult not to be obsessed with the beautiful game for Irish people – it’s all around us!

It’s the world favourite pastime, which is particularly evident whenever a major tournament roll’s around. Below we are going to take a more in-depth look at some of the biggest competitions in world football, from the Premier League to the European Championships. And if you like Sports Betting you will find everything you need here at Mr Green.

Champions League

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As mentioned earlier, all English sides are vying for a place in European competition, so they can face up against the best sides from all over the continent. The Champions league is the biggest annual competition in Europe, and its trophy represents the most sought-after silverware for all the clubs around the world. The final is watched by even more people than the World Cup.

In a similar vein to the Premier League replacing the First Division, the Champions League took over from the European Cup. The rebrand also occurred in 1993, when Ajax won the competition. The most recent tournaments have been dominated by Spanish teams, with a Spanish side winning all 5 of the last campaigns (Real Madrid 4, Barcelona 1).

Champions League History

The Champions League has become bigger and bigger over the years to the behemoth it is today. Back when it was the European Cup, it was contested by the winners of Europe’s top leagues, strictly as a knock-out competition.

Combining both the old and new tournament, Real Madrid have won the most titles. The Spanish giants have won 10 times, including five consecutive tournaments between 1956-1960.

 

Clubs such as AC Milan and Liverpool have also really made their mark on the tournament over the years, and it has become one of the most hotly-anticipated competitions across all of Europe and the world.

Competition format

Qualification

To get a chance at competing in the Champions League, you first need to perform well domestically. Leagues are awarded a certain number of spaces in the competition based on their UEFA coefficient (4 for England, 4 for Spain, etc.) If a side makes it into the Champions league positions, they may go straight into the group stages. Not all spaces are automatic though – some need to qualify through preliminary rounds prior to the group stage.

These preliminary rounds occur during the Summer, and are then followed by First, Second and Third Qualifying Rounds. Once these rounds are completed, there are 6 teams left, which are then joined by two teams from strong Euro leagues to make 8 teams. All 8 teams then contest in one play-off match, with the 4 winners progressing to the group stages of the tournament, which begin in September.

Group stage

The 32 clubs who have made it to the group stages are split up into 8 groups of 4 teams. These groupings are random, but the “best” teams are usually kept apart at this stage by seeding.

Teams play each other twice within their group, or a total of 6 matches per team. 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, none for a loss. If a team finishes first or second in their group, they qualify for the knock-out stages, when things get very serious.

The side in 3rd place in each group enters the Europa League at the knockout stage – more on that later. The side in last is out of the competition.

Knock-Out

After a break around Winter time, the knock-out stages begin in February and it really is unmissable viewing. The competition continues with the Round of 16, which is contested between the winners of each group and the sides who came second. The fixtures are decided through a draw, although sides from the same country cannot face each other at this stage.

The Round of 16 is a two-legged game, with the losing side over the 2 games aggregated score being knocked-out. The same is true of the proceeding two games – the quarter final and the semi-final. Once the two final teams in the competition are decided, they face off in a one-game, 90-minute final (with extra-time/penalties if necessary). This game takes place in a venue chosen well in advance by UEFA and is perhaps the showpiece match of any given year.

Winners

13 teams have won the Champions League since its inception, here’s the list in full:

Team Year(s) Won
Real Madrid 2018, 2017, 2016, 2014, 2002, 2000, 1998
Barcelona 2015, 2011, 2009, 2006
Bayern Munich 2013, 2001
Chelsea 2012
Inter Milan 2010
Manchester United 2008, 1999
AC Milan 2007, 2003, 1994
Liverpool 2005
Porto 2004
Borussia Dortmund 1997
Juventus 1996
Ajax 1995
Marseille 1993

Premier League

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While the Premier League is based in England, it is the world’s most watched domestic football competition. Teams like Manchester United and Liverpool transcend cultural borders and are known all over the world.

How is it that the Premier League – often referred to outside of the UK and Ireland as the EPL (English premier League or by its old name, the Premiership – is broadcast in over 200 countries? It’s down to a number of factors, but the quality of football, the unmatchable drama and setting in the “home of football” don’t hurt!

Irish football fans will be very familiar with the league as it is the most popular competition among Irish people – even more so than the national league. It has long been the tradition that to feature in the Irish national team, you must be plying your trade with top English clubs, which is one of many reasons why Irish viewers are so invested in the competition across the pond.

Premier League History

The Premier League is the name given to what used to be the old First Division. The first year of the tournament in its current guise was 1993, when Manchester United won the league – a feat they have managed 12 times since then, with the last success coming in 2013, and are the most successful team in the competition.

 

Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers have all won at least one league title, and other sides such as Liverpool, Aston Villa and Newcastle United have come agonisingly close in the past.

Format

The Premier League is contested between August and May with a Summer break between seasons. It features 20 clubs, who play each other once at home and once away, for a total of 38 games. A win is 3 points on the board, a draw is one and a loss is none – as is standard across world football these days.

The side with the most points after the final game of the season is crowned league Champions, and the 3 sides who have picked up the least amount of points throughout the campaign are relegated to the Championship – the second tier of the English game.

The relegated sides are replaced by the teams who came in first and second place in the Championship, as well as a third team that is promoted through a play-off tournament between the sides who came between 3rd and 6th in the second tier. This game is often dubbed “the most valuable game” in football due to the immense riches of England’s top division.

Premier League Finances

The money coursing through the Premier League is mind-bogglingly. With such far-reaching interest and viewership, the tournament brings in over £3 Billion per year, making it the richest league in the world, with the individual clubs within the league regularly making up the list of the world’s richest clubs.

European success

While every side is vying for the league title in the Premier League, there is also a fine consolation prize of featuring in European competition if you finish towards the upper end of the league table.

Positions 1, 2, 3, and 4 qualify for the Champions League – the premier European competition. The sides that finish in 5th, 6th, and 7th qualify for the Europa League, the secondary European competition – more on them below.

Past Premier League winners

Just 6 individual clubs have won the title in England in its current guise, these being:

Team Years(s) Won
Manchester City 2018, 2014, 2012
Chelsea 2017, 2015, 2010, 2006, 2005
Leicester City 2016
Manchester United 2013, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1994, 1993
Arsenal 2004, 2002, 1998
Blackburn Rovers 1995

FA Cup

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In terms of domestic competitions relating to the English game, the FA Cup (Football Association) can’t be beat. It’s the main annual knockout cup competition for professional men’s football clubs, an is contested between sides from the lower tiers all the way up to the Premier League, which makes for some fantastic match-ups, huge events and incredible upsets.

FA Cup History

There is no competition in world football with more history than the FA Cup – the inaugural tournament was held in 1871, just 8 years after the rules of football as we know it were established.

There were plenty of major disruptions within the first few decades of the FA Cup, such as the First and then Second World War, but the importance of the FA Cup went from strength to strength.

 

The final has historically been held at Wembley Stadium, the venue of the England National Football team and is located in London.

The final of the cup is held the week after the end of the Premier League season and is an unmissable sporting occasion.

 

Competition Format

The cup begins as early as August for non-league clubs who play in preliminary rounds.

Once these have been contested, the tournament proper gets underway in November, with the first round introducing teams from League one (3rd tier) and League Two (4th Tier), as well as the clubs who made it through the preliminaries.

This is a massive cull of sorts, with 80 clubs being reduced to 40 – with these clubs then competing in the second round, with fixtures being drawn at random the 1st team that is picked has the honour (and advantage) of hosting the game on home ground. If the match ends in a draw, a second leg is played at the away ground.

Then, when these games are finished, the Third Round begins – which is where Championship and premier League clubs are introduced to the fray, bringing the total amount of clubs up to 64.

The same format follows the Fourth Round, Fifth Round and Sixth Round, until there are only 4 teams left, at which point it is the Semi-Finals, with both of these fixtures being played at Wembley Stadium (which wasn’t always the case) over the third Saturday and Sunday in April.

The Semis can go to extra-time and penalties if required, with the tie being settled over one leg. The winners progress to the FA Cup final in May, where the same rules apply, with the winner taking home the coveted FA Cup trophy.

Reward

In addition to the trophy itself, the winners of the FA Cup qualify for the next season’s Europa League competition (more on that later).

They also qualify to play in the inaugural game of the next season, the Community Shield, which is contested by the winners of the previous season’s Premier League and FA Cup. If the same club won both competitions, then the Community Shield is contested by the league’s 1st and 2nd placed teams.

FA Cup Final

The FA Cup Final holds high-regard in the hearts of many football fans. For a lot of older supporters, it may have been the first game they ever seen, as it was one of the first to have broadcast coverage. It marks the end of the English football season.

Records

The FA Cup’s long and illustrious history means there are almost too many records to mention, however here are some of the main ones of interest:

Most wins: Arsenal (13 times between 1930 and 2017).
Most final appearances: Arsenal and Manchester United (20 each).
Most final defeats: Everton and Manchester United (8 each).
Most final appearances without winning: Leicester City (4 – 1949, 1961, 1963, 1969).

European Championships

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The European Championships is the only international competition on this list, and it is commonly referred to as the Euros.

The Euros are the predominant national competition in Europe, with players from many of the leagues and competitions mentioned coming together to play against each other for their national teams.

It has been happening on a 4-yearly basis since 1960 and is always a landmark event when it rolls around.

History of the Euros

The first European Championship took place all the way back in 1960. It consisted of only 4 teams, meaning there were several high-profile absentees. The tournament has grown from strength to strength over the intervening years, with the 2016 tournament consisting of 24 teams.

The tournament is usually held within one or two countries, meaning fans from each nation flock to venues in the selected area, making for a festival of football. As of 2020, the Euros will take place across several European cities as opposed to this format.

Competition Structure

Participants at the European Championships must first get through a group stage before they book their place at the tournament proper. These groups take place over as long as two years in the run up to a tournament.

The World Cup and European Championships occur in alternations of two years (WC in ’10, 14, 18; EC in ’12, ’16, ’20), so they never intercept each other.

The winners and runners-ups of the groups progress to the tournament, where they then contest in more group stages – except these occur in smaller groups with matches within a few days of each other.

Once more, 1st and 2nd in each group progress, and they then compete in the knockout rounds. These are: the round of 16, the quarter finals, the semi-finals and of course, the final. These matches differ from the group games as they cannot end in draws – they are settled through extra-time and penalties if required.

Reward

In addition to the pride that comes with being European champs, the euro winners qualify to participate in the following years Confederation Cup tournament, which is generally seen as a precursor to the World Cups and features the winners of all continent’s major national tournaments, as well as the following year’s World Cup hosts.

Past Winners

11 countries have been crowned European champions over the years, the Soviet Union winning the first and Portugal the last of the tournaments as of 2016:

Country Year(s) won
Portugal 2016
Spain 2012, 2008
Greece 2004
France 2000, 1984
Germany (incl West Germany) 1996, 1980, 1972
Denmark 1992
Netherlands 1988
Czechoslovakia 1976
Italy 1968
Spain 1964
Soviet Union 1960

Europa League

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Like many of the competitions mentioned so far, the Europa League is the new name of a previous competition – in this case, the UEFA Cup. It is the second-tier pan-European club competition, behind the Champions league. It has taken place (under different names) every year since 1971.

Europa League History

In a similar vane to the Champions League, recent years in the Europa League have been dominated by Spanish sides – namely Atletico Madrid and Sevilla.

 

 

 

The two Spanish sides have won 8 of the last 12 competitions, including Sevilla winning 3 consecutive tournaments between 2014 and 2016 with now-Arsenal manager Unai Emery at the helm.

 

Competition format

Europa League Format

The format of the Europa League is very similar to the Champions League, in that there are preliminary rounds, which are then followed by between 1 and 3 rounds for sides that don’t automatically qualify for the group stages.

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Group stage

The 48 clubs who have made it to the group stages are split up into 8 groups of 4 teams. Same as the Champions League, as seeding system is applied, which generally separates the top teams from their respective leagues meeting until later in the tournament.

Knock-Out Rounds

24 teams progress from the groups – 12 group winners and 12 runners-up. They are then joined by the 8 teams that came 3rd place in their Champions League group, making for a total of 32 teams.

There is then a draw between these 32 teams to see who plays each other and these games – as well as the remaining games all the way up to the final – take place over two legs.

The final itself is played over 90 minutes (extra-time and penalties if required) in a venue chose by UEFA a few years prior to the event.

Winners Since 2000

It has been a fantastic spell for Spanish clubs in this level of European competition as well, with Sevilla and Atletico Madrid winning 8 between them and Valencia adding another to make it 9 Spanish winners in the past 18 years – 50%!

Team Year(s) won
Atletico Madrid 2018, 2012, 2010
Manchester United 2017
Sevilla 2016, 2015, 2014, 2007, 2006
Chelsea 2013
Porto 2011, 2003
Shakhtar Donetsk 2009
Zenit St Petersburg 2008
CSKA Moscow 2005
Valencia 2004
Feyenoord 2002
Liverpool 2001
Galatasaray 2000

Germany - Bundesliga

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The German football league is called the Bundesliga, and it follows a similar format to the Premier league, with some differences when it comes to European qualification and relegation from the league.

It has been dominated over the past several years by the European superpower that is Bayern Munich, with only 4 other sides winning the league even once over the past 20 years (Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund and VFL Wolfsburg being the sides).

Bundesliga History

The German top division as we know it was formed in 1963, with the best sides in the country being amalgamated into one fiercely competitive league competition.

It was initially contested between 16 teams, but this changed to 18 from the 1965/66 season. It remained at 18 clubs until the 1991/92 season when it became twenty teams after the unification of west and east Germany.

It reverted to 18 teams once more the year after that and became the Bundesliga we know to this day.

Format

The 18 teams that make-up the league play each other home-and-away for a total of 34 games per team. Same as the other competitions, it’s 3 points awarded for a win, 1 for a draw and none for a loss.

The team with the most points earned from games come May-time is crowned German champion. The teams that come between 2nd – 4th place qualify for the Champions League and the sides that finish 5th and 6th qualify for the Europa League, along with the winner of the German Cup.

Relegation is a little bit different – two teams are definitely relegated – the sides in 17th and 18th place in the league – but the side in 16th has a chance of remaining in the top division. The 16th place side competes in a two-legged play-off against the third-place team in the 2nd division, with the winner over the two legs playing in the top tier the following campaign.

Each year sees two teams relegated. Those finishing in the bottom two positions are forced to play in the lower division while two teams from that lower division are promoted to the Bundesliga. The team that finishes 16th place in the Bundesliga competes in a two-legged playoff with the term that finishes third in the lower division to determine which will play in the Bundesliga the following season.

Attendances

When it comes to atmosphere, the Bundesliga is unbeatable. The passion of the German fans is clear to see – and also very easy to hear! On a per-game average, the Bundesliga is the most attended league in the world.

Just take a look at Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion on any of their home match days and you will see an atmosphere unlike any other. The ground houses over 80,000 fans per match, and also offers far better ticket prices for supporters, adding to the overall enjoyment of the events.

For teams that come up against Bundesliga sides in European competition, they must generally brace themselves for an over-awing atmosphere due to the fanatical supporters getting behind their home teams.

Bundesliga winners since 2000

In recent years Germany’s domestic league championship has been dominated by Bayern Munich with only 4 teams in total having won the league since the turn of the millennium:

Team Year(s) won
Bayern Munich 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2010, 2008, 2006, 2005, 2003, 2001, 2000
Borussia Dortmund 2012, 2011, 2002
VfL Wolfsburg 2009, 2007
Werder Bremen 2004