Football is a complicated sport with thousands of variables that could be used to determine the best competition. We will only use four of these to rank the best football leagues in Europe.
Imports have a major impact on the competition level of leagues in Europe. Within Europe, imports are defined differently in each league. Leagues also have different rules regarding how many imports are allowed on teams, and on the field at the same time. The reason this is such an important part of a leagues competition can easily be figured. A league with loose import rules, has the potential to have more professional players, which could make competition higher than a league that does not allow import players at all.
Despite not classifying these leagues by their countries, most leagues are regionally based within the borders of one country. This means that the domestic players in the league are residents of that country. It is difficult to quantify talent level, but something can be said for a nationality that seems to have more players ending up in American Colleges each year. The same can be said for a nation that has only recently started playing football. And of course there are a lot of countries in between.
The NFL has 32 teams, most college conferences have 10-12 teams, and most high school districts have 6 or 7 teams. This is the model for competition. The more teams competing, the higher chance to find out who is actually the best team. In Europe, most leagues determine the amount of teams by population of players available. A league with 4 teams is rarely going to be more competitive than a league with 10, this is just the reality of the sport.
This is probably the most subjective of the four criteria. The Eye test is what man has relied on for thousands of years, football is no different. Despite imports, suggested talent levels, and amount of teams involved; It’s easy to know if you’re watching good football! This is the aspect of the sport that makes up for lack of the other criteria.
In a perfect world, this list with be numbered 1 to 25 for your viewing pleasure. But this is football, let’s use controversial words like tiers to get the arguments started! The leagues are not in any specific order.
If you want to see the best football in Europe, these are the leagues to watch! These leagues usually boast the best import players in Europe every year. The GFL 1 and AFL are two leagues with a steady supply of domestic players headed to play football in the states in both college and the NFL. Even though they use different league rules, both pass the eye test on the field.
German Football League / GFL 1 (Germany)
Currently, Germany is the model for what American Football should be like in Europe. The top players in Europe aspire to play in the GFL 1 to prove they are the best. Because of the simple import rules, teams can utilize imports from North America and Europe to increase the level of play and competition. The large league size allows for players to get a true measure of how good they are throughout a rigorous schedule, and gives the world a chance to evaluate the teams based on a large sample size of games played. The best teams in Europe usually belong to this league.
Austrian Football League / AFL (Austria)
Germany has a population of 82 million people compared to 8 million in Austria. This comparison is relevant because the ratio is similar to the number of domestic football players in both countries. Germany has a lot MORE, but not necessarily BETTERplayers than those in Austria. With a smaller league size and fewer players, the AFL is high quality in a limited quantity. The top teams in this league make up for that quantity by consistently successfully winning international games throughout Europe.
There is still good football outside of the German and Austrian borders! Each of these leagues have their own strengths & weaknesses in our competition criteria. These second tier leagues have similar top end talent to those in the GFL 1 and AFL.They have some of the best import players in Europe as well, but usually on less teams per league. The best teams in the GFL 2 usually end up in the GFL 1 at some point in time. The Vaahteraliiga in Finland plays a 12 game schedule that is competitive until the very end every season. The LEFA in France is comprised of domestic players from one of the best National teams in the World. The Nationalligaen in Denmark passes the eye test despite a small number of players involved in the sport. And the newly formed LFA 1 in Poland is made of the top teams from Poland’s Topliga last season!
German Football League / GFL 2 (Germany)
This league has the exact same structure and rules as the GFL 1. Most teams in this league would compete with the top teams in Europe. The difference between the GFL 1 and the GFL 2 is domestic talent. It’s pretty simple, more of the best players in Germany play in the GFL 1. But that does not mean that the GFL 2is sloppy leftovers. Their imports and domestic talent is still higher than most in Europe, and make the games very competitive on the field.
Vaahteraliiga / Maple League (Finland)
Finland has a small population of 6 million people. This does not detract the Maple League from having some of the best football games in Europe. With no restriction on the amount of European imports allowed, the Maple League is a melting pot of some of the best European players in the world. Finnish born players can be found showing off their best skills in other leagues in Europe, including the GFL 1 and AFL. Despite the Helsinki Roosters having a stranglehold on league titles recently, the league is usually competitive throughout the season. The large amount of import players makes the on field games worth watching.
Ligue Élite de Football Américain / LEFA (France)
Recently, France put a major focus into developing its domestic players. This was proven successful by their Gold Medal win at the 2017 World Games in Poland. The LEFA has a simple import strategy that would allow for lots of import players to be involved. Because of the talent of French domestics, you will not find nearly as many European imports as you will in some countries. The Ligue Élite has an 8 team league of competition, where the league championship is always up for grabs.
Nationalligaen / NL (Denmark)
Denmark’s import rules allow there to be a large amount of European imports. Football in Denmark is not a big enough market for most teams to actually afford lots of imports. Because of this, teams in the NL mostly utilize their American imports and domestic talent level to increase competition. The best domestic players in Denmark are pretty good, despite the small number of actual players in the country. The league is more competitive at the top side of the league, but there are always 4 or 5 teams in the running for the title in an eight team league. In regards of the eye test, it follows the model of the teams. The best teams have some historically great games, but watching the lower end teams play could become a yawnfest very quickly. The top teams in Denmark make this league competitive as a whole.
Liga Futbolu Amerykańskiego / LFA 1 (Poland)
This is a newly formed league in Poland for the 2018 season. The 2017 Topliga Champions and a few other top teams from the previously only Polish League, Topliga make up this league. This information makes it possible to believe that this league will be even more competitive than last year’s Topliga. The import rules are not kind to foreigners, but Poland has a very strong domestic presence in the sport. The LFA 1 has scheduled an aggressive 12 team league that will ensure some great games within the country this summer. Based on the eye test of these top teams last season, this will be one of the most competitive leagues in Europe this year.
Competition level is subjective to who is watching, so different isn’t always better, or worse. This third tier is full of leagues who have teams that could easily compete with the second tier teams, and probably a few teams in the top tier as well. The Topliga in Poland was a second tier league last year, but with the loss of some of it’s best teams, the league has to prove that its teams are just as good if not better than before. The Superserien in Sweden has some of the best imports in Europe every year, despite only having 5 teams in the league. The Premier Division in Great Britain is home to some of the best European players in the world. Premier Division domestics can be found on numerous teams throughout Europe. The Prima Divisione in Italy has the makings of a competitive league each season by having a full 10 team league. Both the Prva Liga in Serbia & the NLA in Switzerland pass the eye test on the field of play each week between the best teams in their respective leagues.
Polska Liga Futbolu Amerykańskiego/ Topliga (Poland)
Before the league split, this league would have easily been in the second tier. This league’s competition should be a mirror image of the LFA 1, except for one glaring exception. Some of the best teams from 2017 season are no longer in this league. Of course this means the newly restructured league has teams who must prove that this league is just as competitive as before. But until they prove that on the field, the league looks weaker, and overall less competitive than its counterpart.
Sweden has lots of history with American Football, and has relied on that reputation to recruit some of the best import players around the world. This means every summer there are some elite athletes playing good football in Sweden. In addition to history, the domestic players of this country are very well trained in the sport and play good football with or without imports. The best Swedish born players can be found in small colleges in the states as well as in various leagues in Europe. The league size of the Superserien is something to be monitored over the next few years, as their league only has 5 teams competing this year. Luckily for this league, the top teams in this league are slated to play international games to increase their overall competition level as a whole. With only 5 teams, this league leaves no room for error in regards to competition. If the games on the field are anywhere near as good as they have been in the past, the Superserien will still be worth watching this summer in Europe.
Premier Division (Great Britain)
Import players are not paid to play in Great Britain. This means the best players do not flock to this league to play. This also means the best domestic players use this league as a stepping stone to playing elsewhere in Europe. Look at any league in Europe and you will find a United Kingdom passport player on a few rosters. That says something for domestic talent that is usually cultivated in this league every year. Despite having 11 teams in this league, it’s usually a three team race for the Britbowleach season. This leads to a few unimpressive games throughout the season. But the on the field competition of the best games in the Premier Division are definitely among the top in Europe and worth watching.
Italian Football League / Prima Divisione (Italy)
Italy is a beautiful country that attracts some of the best imports in the World. Who wouldn’t want to play football in a country with so much history and culture? The best Italian born players are also some of the best football players in Europe. Unfortunately, the Prima Divisione has 10 teams to spread a small number of elite Italians throughout. This leads to a few very good teams and a few very bad teams in this league. But luckily, the middle of the the pack is the melting pot of import and domestic talent. Despite a few random blow out games, every week is competitive in the Prima Divisione. The on-field play proves this each week, full of highlights from teams all over the league.
SPORT KLUB PRVA LIGA / Prva Liga(Serbia)
This Serbian league has basic import rules that attract really good players to the country. But even if their were no import players, Serbia who have one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. The Serbs are talented domestics, despite their limited exposure to the American Football (league is only 15 years old). Because of the newness to the sport, some teams are better prepared than others throughout the season. This means sometimes, games are very lopsided toward the top teams in the league. But when those top teams play, its like watching football in the states, bring your popcorn!
Nationalliga A / NLA (Switzerland)
Another destination country for most import players. Come to Switzerland to play football, see one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and visit a few of the multiple countries nearby. Some of the best players in Europe have made stops in Switzerland before playing in higher leagues later. The domestic talent in Switzerland is good, not great. It’s pretty much a one team league each year, but the other 5 teams are fighting tooth and nail for the second spot. This is one of the few leagues where watching the best team is not where the value of competition is found. Watching the games, you will notice that there is true rivalries between teams that have been playing each other for years, over and over. Instead of the matchups getting stale, the teams are being more creative and playing harder every time they meet. The Eye test really shows why this league is one of the most competitive in Europe.
All football is not created equal. Some leagues get the best players, some don’t. Some leagues have great domestic talent, some don’t. Some leagues have enough teams formed to be competitive and can prove it on the field, some don’t. Of our four competition criteria (Import Rules, Domestic Talent, League Size, Eye Test), the leagues in the 4th tier just don’t compare to the previous tiers in multiple areas. The majority of these leagues have one or two teams worth watching, but most likely in international play instead of their league play.
Česká Liga Amerického Fotbalu (Czech Republic)
Turkey American Football League Super Liga (Turkey)
Hungarian Football League (Hungary)
Liga Nacional de Fútbol Americano – Serie A (Spain)
Norges Amerikanske Idretters Forbund – Elite Serien (Norway)
Belgium American Football League – Elite Series (Belgium)
American Football Bond Nederland – Premier (Netherlands)
League of American Football – Premier (Russia)
The leagues in this tier are up-and coming leagues that lack the football experience of most other countries in Europe. Look for these countries to move up in this list in the future.
Liga Portuguesa de Futebol Americano(Portugal)
Federation American Football of Ukraine (Ukraine & Belarus)
Zveza za Ameriški Nogomet Slovenije – ZANS Liga 1 (Slovenia)
Slovak Football League (Slovakia)
*Some football leagues did not make this list because reputable information was not able to be found.
by The Podyum