A quick and simple guide to Club Soccer in Europe,
Custom tailored just for Americans!
Welcome to "Understanding Soccer in Europe in 4 Simple Steps: A Guide for Americans"
Although from the outside it may seem complex and
confusing, to understand how soccer works in Europe, you really only need to know 4 things.
#1. Each country has its own soccer league.
Seasons runs from August to May in which each team plays every other team twice, once at home and once on the road.
Games are divided into two 45-minute halves and
when the game is over the winner is awarded three
points, the loser zero and in the event of a tie, each
team gets one point.
After each team has played all the other teams twice,
The team with the most points is crowned Champion
of the League. They get a big trophy, a parade and
The season is over. There are no playoffs...sort of
Before the books are closed on the season, there is
Still one small bit of housekeeping to be done. #2.
Relegation. We'll use the German league as an example. Every year when the German league has concluded and the Champion has been crowned, the three teams with the least amount of points are kicked out of the league. This process is known as Relegation. The three vacant spots are subsequently filled by the top three teams from Germany's second division. And unlike say, baseball in the US, teams in the second (and subsequent) divisions are NOT owned by teams in the top Division.
Imagine if the Pittsburg Pirates or Oakland Raiders had to fight at the end of each season just to stay in the league. What if instead of coasting to the bottom for better draft picks, they were fighting to the bitter end to avoid the $40M revenue loss that relegated teams suffer in their first year alone! Not to mention the fact that in England, 9 different teams have gone financially insolvant within 5 years of Relegation.
"OK, interesting enough" you're thinking, but what about that whole lack of playoffs part? #3. Each country also holds an elimination-style tournament, referred to as a Cup. But instead of being held AFTER the 9 month league is over, Cup games are scheduled in between League games, normally in the middle of the week. One additional perk about the Cup system is that teams from all levels (down to semi-professional and even some amateur teams) are invited to play and if they do well, can progress and occasionally even knock off a top team. So every year these mid-week eliminations games continue until there are only two teams left, who play each other in the Cup Final. After 90 min a Cup champion is crowned, they get a trophy, and a parade .
So between the League and Cup games, we get a great picture of who the best and worst teams in each country are. "But wait a second", you ask, what would happen if the best teams from each country in Europe all got together and played each other? "Good idea", #4. The resultant competition is called the UEFA Champions League and it is without a doubt the single greatest club competition of any sport, anywhere is the world. (Think of the NCAA tournament but with better quality of play, more than double the fanbase and quadruple the enthusiasm. And yes, Europe even has their own version of the NIT as well) So, Through a complex and drawn out process teams from all over Europe compete just to qualify for this tournament. And starting each September the top 32 teams are put into 8 groups of 4. Each team plays the other members of its group two times, once at home and once on the road. Come December, the winner and runner up from each group move on the knockout round. And this is where club soccer is at its finest. Teams are paired up individually and again play one home and one away game, with the winner from each pair moving on to the next round until only 2 teams remain. The Champions League Final is then held as a single game each year in May. And unless it's a World Cup year, THIS is the most important soccer game of the year. After 90 minutes, a Champion is crowned, the trophy is awarded, parades commence and all clubs go on break until the madness fires back up again in August. So, to review.
1. Each country has its own league
2. The worst teams are kicked out of the league and replaced by the best teams from the next division down.
3. Throughout the year, each country also holds a playoff type tournament called a Cup.
4. The UCL is a tournament involving all of Europe and is the most important competition in all of club soccer.
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