The TOP 5 Toughest Football Leagues (In The World)

If you are considering the best 5 leagues in the world, you would most likely think of Europe’s top 5 leagues (England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France).

While these are considered as the best, they are not necessarily the toughest leagues to play in.

This is mainly due to the competitiveness of the league, where these leagues are dominated by just a few teams!

There are multiple factors to determine how tough a league can be to play in, and here’s an analysis for you.

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What are the Toughest Leagues in Football?

Although the presence of more world-class players and managers is a significant factor in determining which football leagues are the best, it is not the only factor that determines whether or not a league is the best. 

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Many football leagues around the world are underestimated when it comes to determining which leagues are the best!

To determine which football leagues are the most difficult to play in, there are a number of factors that can be taken into consideration.

It is vital to examine these leagues using the elements below, and not just the amount of cash that these leagues create. Here are some of the factors that you can consider when estimating the difficulty of a league:

FactorDefinition
Dominance of teamsIf the competition in a league is high enough,
we won’t see the same clubs winning the title year after year.
Another factor that goes into determining this vote is the proportion
of total league points that each team in the league has accumulated. 

Because both the German Bundesliga and the French Ligue 1 have been
dominated by a single team for the better part of a decade,
neither of these leagues meets this condition.
PhysicalityThere are football leagues that include teams that
play a particularly rough and fast-paced style of the game.
In order for teams to be successful in these competitions, they need to learn
how to adjust to the increased level of physicality. 

The Spanish La Liga is a league that is notable for having
very few physically imposing teams.
Instead, the majority of their play is focused on the more technical aspects of the game.
However, a great number of other leagues are based on their more physical aspects.
Fan atmosphereThe level of competition in a football league should be determined, in large part,
by the environment that exists within and around the stadiums where games are played.
One of the factors that contributes to the difficulty that opposing teams
face while playing in a certain stadium is the capacity of the fans in that stadium. 

This could usually generate an atmosphere that is imposing and intimidating.
For instance, Borussia Dortmund have the Yellow Wall,
which is an intimidating sight to behold for any opponent.
Quality of teamsIt is crucial to consider the actual quality of the teams in a league.
It also helps to take note of how excellent the players that play in these teams are.
If there are just low-level teams competing, it is unrealistic to expect
to see free-flowing, high-quality football on show. 

The quality of the teams competing will define the quality of the football that will be played.
The amount of money available to teams for transfer fees
and wages of players has a significant impact on this aspect of the competition.
Fixtures and RivalriesThe types of fixtures teams will face in a football league campaign also
contributes to the difficulty of the league.
As a result, rivalries are formed over time to make the fixtures more exciting.
There is usually an increased level of competition among
teams in a league if there is a greater number of rivalries and derbies. 

When only a few teams are competing against each other,
the strategy that a team will employ in games will be different
from when there are a lot of rivalries between teams.
The teams involved in the rivalries may be from the same region,
or they may be competing against each other for superiority.

Using the above parameters to judge these leagues, here is a table showing the five toughest leagues and their awarded difficulty scores on a scale of 0 to 10:

LeagueDifficulty Score
Argentine Primera Division7
Italian Serie A7
English Football League Championship 8
English Premier League 8
Brazilian Serie A9

#5 Argentine Primera Division 

Argentina’s first division, the Primera Division comes out in fifth place in this ranking. The league was ranked as the 4th best in the world in 2015 by the IFFHS (International Federation of Football History and Statistics). 

Breaking down each of the factors listed above, it is clear that the Argentine Primera Division is not dominated by one or two teams. In fact, in the last decade, five teams (San Lorenzo, River Plate, Boca Juniors, Lanus, and Racing) have emerged as the league’s champions.

This shows that the league is competitive, and success is not limited to a particular team. 

Similarly, as with every South American league, the Argentine Primera Division is very physical and players who hone their skills in this league do not find it difficult to adapt to physicality elsewhere. 

A notable example is Javier Mascherano who started his career at River Plate in 2003. Mascherano eventually played in the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga for the best years of his career, adapting mentally and physically to these leagues.

In terms of the atmosphere seen in stadiums, Argentine football fans create some of the most intimidating atmospheres in and around their stadiums. A BBC article in 2018 described Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera Stadium as the most intimidating to play in in the world.

On the average, Argentine teams play an interesting brand of football. Eight different Argentine sides have won the Copa Libertadores, and seven different sides have won the Copa Sudamericana.

You can find out the differences between the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana here.

In addition, Argentine football presently has seven derby matches per season, and these derbies are some of the most fiercely contested matches in club football worldwide.

A notable example is the Buenos Aires derby between Boca Juniors and River Plate.

#4 Italian Serie A

The Italian Serie A is another of the world’s toughest leagues and is ranked as the fourth toughest on this list. The Serie A has moved away from the period where Juventus ran away with the title every season with three different winners in each of the last three seasons. 

In addition, Italian football is one of the most physically demanding styles of football. Players from the league are normally quite adept at playing a physical brand of football.

Most of the great defenders tend to be Italian as well.

Also, Italian fans or ‘ultras’ are often referred to as some of the most invested fans in the world. Their interest in their teams extends beyond the stadiums where they create intimidating atmospheres, to outside the playing arenas.

Napoli fans create such an atmosphere at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona that the stadium feels like a cauldron during matches. 

Furthermore, Italian football is one of the most tactically advanced brands of football there is. Although Serie A sides have not tasted much success on the continental stage in recent years, their teams deliver interesting football.

Finally, in Italy, there are presently 7 hotly-contested rivalries of varying significance. These rivalries include the following:

In each of these games, the stakes are markedly higher than in other games. 

#3 English Football League Championship 

Despite being a second-tier league, the English Championship is one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. Because of how tough it can be, many English Premier League clubs send their young players to clubs in this league to gain experience. 

You can find out more about loan players playing against their parent club here.

The Championship is tough because of the class of players and managers that compete in the league, as well as the number of games played per season. 

A club that qualifies for the Championship Playoff final ends up playing 49 league matches in the competition. Teams that do not reach the playoffs play 46 matches in the league alone. This number of games is more than some teams from other leagues play in an entire season, including cup competitions. 

#2 English Premier League

This guide will rank the English Premier League as the second toughest league in world football at the moment. This is so despite most football fans and stakeholders believing that the Premier League is the best league in football. 

Despite that only two teams have won the past four editions of the league, the league remains one of the most competitive in the world.

The Premier League has players and managers from various parts of the world, and each of them brings his style to the league. This means that the league is quite physical and fast-paced football is the order of the day.

As a result, physically dominant players tend to enjoy their time in the league because the officiating leaves room for players to exert their physicality on their opponents.

Premier League teams have some of the loudest and most passionate fans, and these fans tend to create a brilliant atmosphere for teams, as many players have testified. Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium is one such ground where opponents fear playing due to the kind of atmosphere the fans generate.

In addition, the English Premier League has some of the world’s best managers and footballers. This includes the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah plying their trades in the Premier League. This translates into the level of football played by the Premier League teams.

Moreover, the Premier League has more than 10 derbies every season, and each of these derbies delivers high-quality football. 

#1 Brazilian Serie A

In 2021, IFFHS ranked the Brazilian Serie A as the world’s strongest league, ahead of the English Premier League. The Brazilian league has seen six different winners in the last 10 years. 

Palmeiras, Cruzeiro, Corinthians, Flamengo, Fluminense, and Atletico Mineiro have all laid a claim on the title. 

The level of competition in the league is very high, seeing as no club has won it more than twice in a row during this timeframe. 

The Brazilian league combines the elements of raw physicality and excellent technicality to deliver quality football. This is because most Brazilian footballers begin their careers in the streets and this gives them the physicality to play anywhere.

This also testifies to why South American football is generally very physical.

In addition, Brazilian fans are crazy about football, showing how they support their teams. The atmosphere in stadiums during Brazilian Serie A matches is normally very charged, and the fans are usually willing to brawl with each other.

Brazilian football has a great deal of quality, with four of the last five editions of the Copa Libertadores having been won by Brazilian teams. Palmeiras are the current holders of the competition.

Moreover, Atletico Paranaense are the current holders of the Copa Sudamericana. Their success in continental football shows that Brazilian teams are some of the best.

The Brazilian Serie A has over 15 high-level derbies, all of which are of varying levels of significance in the league. 

Conclusion

By considering these few factors, we have determined the toughest 5 leagues ever in the football world. While the Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga, and French Ligue 1 are considered as leagues with really high quality, they may be lacking in the ‘competitiveness’ aspect which makes them less ‘tough’ than the leagues in this list!

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