Almost every nation around the world has a professional football league, with a wide range of talent and prestige among them. There are some major countries that have professional leagues that don’t really stack up in terms of talent with the best, and that includes places like the United States, Norway, and Japan.
Then there are countries, which, despite being smaller in size, have brought in the most money and the best players. Obviously, many of these prestigious leagues are in Europe where football is king. Which ones rank as the best in the world, though? Here are our picks for the top five in order. Some of the leagues that just missed the cut include Dutch Eredivisie, Portuguese Liga, Brasileiro Serie A, and Mexican Primera Division Torneo Clausura.
French Ligue 1
At the start of the 1930s, there was no professional football in France, but the country’s leaders in the sport decided that it should change, with French Ligue 1 starting in 1932. There had been plenty of clubs throughout France, and those that had an exemplary history both on the field and in terms of revenue were invited to join the newly founded league. Olympique Lillois won the first championship but went defunct in 1944.
Since then, some of the premier clubs include Paris Saint-Germain, Saint-Etienne, and Marseille. The three clubs have dozens of titles between them, and Marseilles leads all clubs in terms of most seasons with the top league. Some of the top players in French Ligue 1 history include Jean Pierre Papin, Zinedine Zidane, Raymond Kopa, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Italy Serie A
No other league on the list is as old as Italy Serie A, which was founded in 1898 with the clubs being separated by region. A quarter-century later, all of the league’s clubs began playing each other and the format has stuck ever since. The age of the league has helped it become so prestigious, with many considering it the top league in the world for some stretches of the 20th century.
Serie A has a few “big boys” with Inter Milan, Juventus, Roma, and AC Milan being the premier clubs. Juventus is the biggest dog in that yard, with nearly as many titles as the next two teams (Inter and AC Milan) combined. There have been a lot of legendary players throughout Serie A history, including Paolo Maldini, Francesco Totti, Diego Maradona, and Gianluigi Buffon. In fact, when the top 100 footballers in history list was assembled in 2017, Serie A was the most represented league on the list.
Spanish Primera Division
The Spanish Primera Division is officially known as The Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera Division, but most everyone simply calls it La Liga. The league was founded in 1929, making it the second oldest on the list, and like Serie A, has had stretches where it was the top league in the world.
While Athletic Bilbao and Valencia are long-time members of the league, Barcelona and Real Madrid are the dominant forces, combining to win over 60 of the La Liga titles. Some of the best players in football history have made their way through La Liga. The best players in league history include Lionel Messi, Alfredo di Stefano, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi, and Iniesta.
The German Bundesliga is the second-youngest on the list and second-most prestigious, and for a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was the top league. There are a lot of clubs that have had modest success in the Bundesliga, but nobody has matched what Bayern Munich has been able to do.
No other club has more than five titles besides Munich, who has more than 30 in their trophy case. Other premier clubs include Borussia Dortmun, Bayer Leverkusen, and VfL Wolfsburg. The Bundesliga’s top players in league history include Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Robert Lewandowski, and Oliver Kahn.
English Premier League
The most prestigious league on the list is also the youngest one on the list by a longshot. The English Premier League was founded in 1992, with Manchester United taking the first title. The league was founded because English football was on the downswing, and a new league with more revenue could prove a shot in the arm, which ended up being a fantastic decision.
Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea are the top teams in league history, collecting more than two dozen titles, while clubs like Everton and Tottenham Hotspur have been staples. Though the EPL doesn’t have a long history, there is already a history of some all-time great players. Some of the names that come to mind include Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Cristiano Ronaldo, and many more.