Thursday, September 29, 2011

Exploring the BPL, Champions League, & the Euro

We’re fully into autumn now, aren’t we? With the weeks of the Premier League season flying by, and with Champions League (more on that in a minute…) matches sprinkled in every week, there’s lots of soccer to be had, that’s for certain. And The Newb loves every minute of it!

While traveling to Virginia this weekend, your faithful Newb watched from his hotel as his Man City Blues held of the Toffees of Everton 2-0 in what was perhaps the most physical matchup Citeh’s seen to date (or, at least, seen by David Silva, who was clearly targeted as the key for Everton’s defense). And – good news – just before leaving on his jet plane to the mid-Atlantic, The Newb’s hot-off-the-presses Manchester City jersey arrived! I love the dark blue, third kit, which reminds me of my college colors – but that’s for my next column…

As promised, this week, I’m going to have a look at the different leagues and tournaments that seem to be swirling around this season (and beyond), filling the schedule and giving us lots to watch and talk about.

Barclay’s Premier League:
The Barclay’s Premier League is the highest level of competition for English professional soccer organizations. The “Barclay’s” simply refers to the League’s generous sponsor, Barclay’s Bank. (Editor's Note: Most people will tell you that BPL stands for Barclay's Premier League, but that's not entirely true. The purists always refer to the premier league as the EPL or English premier league because the sponsor changes every few seasons and to tell it apart from the Scottish Premier League, Irish Premier League, etc. However, this season the same people who used to call it the EPL are now calling it the BPL because of the inclusion of Swansea City, who are from Wales. Since the league is no longer just "English" teams this season, the purists have adapted BPL to be the "British" premier league. Fun little factoid…)

The League contains the top 20 teams, with yearly promotion and relegation from and to The Football League (the top Football League squads each year are bumped up into the BPL and the BPL’s cellar-dwellers are demoted a rung to the top level of The Football League. Incidentally, I couldn’t love this system more – what an incentive to field a competitive team and to keep sharing in the BPL’s bigger money! I can think of more than a few Major League Baseball teams I’d like to see relegated to the minor leagues for a season or two…)

The BPL is relatively new – it formed in 1992 as 20 teams seceded from The Football League to capitalize on a new television contract. There have been a total of 45 clubs that have competed in the BPL since then (not terrible representation, really), but only FOUR squads have won the BPL crown in that time: Manchester United (the runaway leader with 12 titles, and the reigning champs); Arsenal (three); Chelsea (three); and Blackburn (one).

Since the BPL is comprised of professional clubs, there is no national affiliation associated with the teams; though there are many English players, one can also find in the League players from Argentina, Italy, Brazil, the USA, Japan, and countless other nations.

The 20 teams play one another twice – once at home, once away – making up a 38-match schedule from August-May. Three points are awarded for a win, one for a tie, and none for a loss. Standings are determined by points awarded, then by goal differential, and then number of goals scored. There are no playoffs – at the end of the season, the club in the first slot wins the championship (though in the rare instance that there is still a tie after points, GD, and GS, there is a one-match playoff).

UEFA Champions League:
While the BPL season plays out, the top four clubs from that league also qualify for the UEFA Champions League, a tournament of the top 32 professional European clubs (i.e. Manchester City and Man U from England, but also Barcelona from Spain and Napoli from Italy…) that are divided into eight groups of four in which teams play one another in a home-and-away round-robin format. This takes place through the late summer and fall.

Following group play, the top squad from one group plays the runner up from another (if this sounds similar to the FIFA World Cup, that’s because it is…) – interestingly, though, until after this round, squads from the same country are protected from playing one another, which can make for some unexpectedly fun matches. The round of 16 starts the knockout tournament, which runs from late winter with the Championship happening late in May.

Spain has typically been a Champions League powerhouse, with Madrid and Barcelona (2011 defending champions) accounting for 13 titles by themselves. England and Italy, though, are forces in their own rights, with four different English squads owning titles, and AC Milan as the second-most decorated club (and the last to repeat as champions in 1989/1990).

UEFA European Football Championship (e.g., Euro 2012):
Unlike those leagues above, the UEFA European Football Championship (generally shortened to Euro [appropriate year here]) is a nationally based competition for European countries. Currently (since 1996), 16 national teams qualify for the tournament, but beginning in 2016, 24 teams will be eligible, as determined by a series of qualifying matches, with the host nation automatically qualifying. The Euro is held every four years, with the finals falling during the halfway point between FIFA World Cup tournaments (2008, 2012, 2016, etc…). Qualifying begins almost immediately following the previous World Cup, and teams are continually ranked by the UEFA, in order to determine seeding for the Euro.

After a long qualifying process of international play, in which UEFA again uses group play to determine the final 16 teams from winners and runners-up, teams are drawn into four groups of four. Each team plays its three opponents once only, and again, winners and runners-up advance to the quarterfinals, which begin the knockout phase of the tournament, culminating in the finals, played in June.

Overall, 27 countries have appeared in the Euro, with a third of those – that’s nine, folks – actually winning the title at least once: Germany (the leader, with three titles), Spain (two, and the current 2008 champs), France (two), the Soviet Union/Russia, the Czech Republic, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, and Greece (this was a stunner in 2004, while The Newb was in grad school with a Greek professor as his advisor – countless “advising sessions” were done late that summer with beer in hand and Greece on the TV…)

So you can see, just from this selection of leagues and tournaments, the amount of action every country, club, and player sees year-round. As has been mentioned elsewhere on this blog, it’s obviously important for each interested party to keep players fresh for its respective play, but to keep playing them in the right spots – this underscores the need for depth and an always-improving youth movement, to have players at the ready for current and future tournaments.

Of course, glaring omissions here are the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games. The Newb figures that if you’re reading this, you know as much – probably more – than he does about those. But, as always, if you’d like me to cover those, or any other topics, get in touch:


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