Top 5 Best Football Leagues In Asia (2024 Ranking)

This is the list of the top 5 best football leagues in Asia in 2024 ranking.

Asian football leagues are rapidly growing, and expanding their wings as the level of their league’s performances which have dragged the attention of football fans plus a couple of merits is huge.

These leagues used to be like a dump of aged players, but now they do not grow older anymore to play in Asian leagues due to the league’s popularity.

Every league has done enough, but only a few have done something extraordinary which are the leagues on this list.

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Top 5 Best Football Leagues In Asia

  1. K League Classic
  2. Persian Gulf Pro League
  3. J1 League
  4. A-League
  5. Chinese Super League

However, In this post, you will learn about the top 5 best football leagues in Asia in 2023 which will include:

  • The history of the league
  • Structure
  • Current clubs

And lots more.

1. K League Classic

K League Classic

The K League Classic is the premier professional football division within the South Korean football league system. This league features a thrilling competition among twelve top-tier clubs.

The league traces its roots back to 1983 when it was founded as the Korean Super League, initially comprising five member clubs: Hallelujah FC, Yukong Elephants, Pohang Steelworks, Daewoo Royals, and Kookmin Bank.

Hallelujah FC clinched the inaugural title, edging out Daewoo Royals by a single point to lift the trophy. The league has undergone several transformations over the years.

It was renamed the Korean Professional Football League in 1987, introducing the home and away system.

In 1998, it adopted the name K League, and in 2013, the league underwent a major structural change, dividing into two divisions: the K League Classic and the newly created K League Challenge, both forming part of the K League structure.

The K League Classic has seen impressive growth since its inception, expanding from its initial five clubs to a lineup of 22 teams.

Among the original five clubs, Yukong, Pohang, and Daewoo continue to compete in the league, while Kookmin Bank withdrew at the end of 1984.

In a significant development, the top-flight competition was officially renamed K League 1 on January 22, 2018, signifying its premier status within the South Korean football landscape. The league follows a comprehensive structure, featuring promotion and relegation systems.

From the 2012 season onwards, two teams face relegation, and since 2013, only the 12th-ranked team is automatically relegated, with the 11th-ranked team engaging in a match against the winner of the K League 2 promotion playoffs.

To determine the final standings, the league introduced a system in 2012, where clubs play each other three times in the regular round.

Following that, the top and bottom six teams are divided into Split A and Split B, respectively, competing against each other once.

The K League season typically crosses from March to late November, and the league’s structure, number of games, and clubs have evolved.

Notably, several member clubs are owned by major South Korean conglomerates, known as “chaebols,” while others are owned by local governments.

The league’s top three finishers, excluding Sangmu FC due to their unique military status, secured qualification for the AFC Champions League in the subsequent season.

Additionally, if the winners of the Korean FA Cup are unable to qualify or have already secured their spot, the fourth-placed team can participate in the tournament.

With Gangwon FC joining as the 15th member club in 2009, the K League achieved a historic milestone by having at least one club in each province of South Korea, marking a groundbreaking moment in domestic South Korean professional sports.

2. Persian Gulf Pro League

Persian Gulf Pro League

The Persian Gulf Pro League, formerly known as the Iran Pro League, is the highest division of professional football in Iran since its establishment.

Each year, the top team in the league is crowned the Iranian football champion, while the two lowest finishers face relegation to the Azadegan League. Since 2013, the league has consisted of 16 teams competing fiercely for the title.

The winner and runner-up of the Persian Gulf Pro League, and the champion of the Hazfi Cup, qualify automatically for the AFC Champions League group stages.

The team finishing in third place enters the AFC Champions League play-off round. Also, the bottom two teams in the league are relegated to the Azadegan League.

Currently, each team plays twice against the others in the league, resulting in a total of 30 matches per season.

The teams are ranked in the league table based on points, goal difference, goals scored, and their head-to-head record for that season.

Among the illustrious clubs in the Persian Gulf Pro League, Persepolis is the most successful, having won the championship eight times since the adoption of the new format. In total, Persepolis has won the league title 15 times.

Other clubs like Esteghlal, Sepahan, and Foolad have also recorded impressive performances and title victories.

In 2001 when the Iranian Football Federation decided to create a new professional football league, leading to the establishment of the Iran Pro League as the country’s top-level football competition.

Before the league’s inception, the Azadegan League was the second-highest tier in the Iranian football league system. The Persian Gulf Pro League has witnessed intense rivalries and memorable moments throughout its existence.

Matches between Persepolis and Esteghlal are like E Classico, with an electric atmosphere in stadiums across the country.

The league’s competitiveness and the caliber of talent on display have contributed to its growth as one of Asia’s best football leagues.

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3. J1 League

J1 League

The J1 League, known as the Meiji Yasuda J1 League for sponsorship reasons was established in 1992, it has emerged as one of the most successful leagues in Asian club football.

With 18 clubs competing, the J1 League operates on a promotion and relegation system in conjunction with the J2 League, providing intense competition and excitement.

Before the J. League’s inception, the Japan Soccer League (JSL) was the highest level of club football in Japan.

However, to raise the level of play, attract more fans, and strengthen the national team, the Japan Football Association (JFA) decided to establish a professional league.

In 1992, the J.League was formed, and it consisted of eight clubs from the JSL First Division, one from the Second Division, and the newly formed Shimizu S-Pulse.

This marked the beginning of a new era for Japanese football. The inaugural season of the J.League in 1993 saw ten clubs competing for glory.

The league experienced a boom in its early years, attracting serious attention and support from fans.

However, attendance numbers declined in the following years, prompting the league’s management to reassess its strategies.

They introduced the J.League Hundred Year Vision, aiming to create 100 professional football clubs in Japan by 2092 and foster strong relationships with local communities.

Additionally, the league introduced a two-division system with J.League Division 1 (J1) and J.League Division 2 (J2) in 1999. The J1 League further developed in 2005, aligning its season format with European club football standards.

With 18 clubs competing, the league uses a system that included relegation playoffs and increased the number of teams eligible for the AFC Champions League.

Japanese clubs initially showed limited interest in the AFC Champions League, but in recent years, their involvement and success have been impressive.

The league’s competitiveness and marketability in Asia led to the AFC awarding four slots to the J1 League.

The J1 League continued to refine its structure and regulations, introducing the AFC Player slot in 2009 and implementing a three-stage system from 2015 to 2016.

However, due to negative feedback and the need to appeal to fans, the league reverted to a single-stage system in 2017.

That said, the team with the most points at the end of the season is crowned the champion, and the bottom two clubs face relegation. And the 16th-placed club engages in a playoff with the J2 club that wins the promotion playoff series.

In addition, the Japanese clubs have experienced success on the continental stage, with teams like Urawa Red Diamonds, Gamba Osaka, and Kashima Antlers displaying their qualities in the AFC Champions League and even participating in the FIFA Club World Cup.

The past decade has seen Japanese clubs rise both regionally and internationally, making their mark and aiming for success.

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4. A-League

A-League

The A-League Men is the premier professional men’s soccer league in Australia and New Zealand.

It was established in 2004 as a successor to the National Soccer League (NSL), the A-League Men has become the country’s top-tier competition for the sport.

Administered by the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the league features twelve teams, eleven based in Australia and one from New Zealand, all unified under the A-League’s banner.

The A-League Men season runs from October to May and follows an interesting format. It consists of a 26-round regular season, where each team competes against each other two or three times.

The season builds up to a Finals Series playoff involving the six highest-placed teams, leading up to the grand final match.

And the team that finishes at the top of the regular season standings is crowned the ‘Premier,’ while the winner of the final claims the title of the season’s ‘Champion.’

Successful A-League Men are qualified to play in the Asian continental club competitions, the AFC Champions League (ACL), and the AFC Cup.

The Western Sydney Wanderers became the first and only Australian club to win the ACL in 2014, marking a major achievement for Australian football.

Unlike leagues in other parts of the world, such as Europe, the A-League Men do not practice relegation and promotion. Though A-League Men was formed in 1977.

And after years of decline, the NSL faced financial and structural challenges, leading to its dissolution in 2004.

The Football Federation Australia (FFA) took the initiative to create a new national competition, leading to the birth of the A-League Men in 2004, with eight founding teams.

Since its inception, the A-League Men has grown. New teams joined the league, and existing clubs have undergone rebranding.

Melbourne Heart became Melbourne City in 2014, and Western United FC joined the competition in 2019.

The ownership structure of the league also changed, with the FFA giving control to the clubs in 2019, leading to the formation of the Australian Professional Leagues. The competition format includes a regular season followed by a finals series.

The top six teams from the regular season advance to the finals series, with the grand final determining the A-League champion. The champion club is awarded the A-League Champions Trophy.

A-League Men clubs also have opportunities to participate in other competitions like the Australia Cup (formerly FFA Cup) and the A-League Youth Competition.

The A-League Men aligns with the AFC Champions League, providing Australian clubs with the chance to compete against top teams from across Asia.

The A-League Men have played a crucial role in building football to a new height in Australia and New Zealand.

5. Chinese Super League

CSL

The Chinese Super League emerged in 2004 as a transformative force in Chinese football.

The inaugural season of the CSL faced controversy inherited from its predecessor, the Jia-A league, which had been marred by scandals like match-fixing and gambling since 1999.

These issues led to low interest, low attendance, and financial losses for domestic football.

The league’s original plan was to have one relegated team and two promoted teams for the 2004 and 2005 seasons, expanding the number of units to 14 in 2006.

However, the decisions made by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) resulted in the cancellation of relegations for those two years.

In 2005, the league expanded to 14 teams with the promotion of Wuhan Huanghelou and Zhuhai Zobon from the China League One.

Zhuhai Zobon, renamed Shanghai Zobon after relocation to Shanghai, was acquired by the Shanghai Zobon real estate company. The 2006 season was intended to feature 16 teams, but Sichuan First City withdrew, leaving only 15 teams.

The following year, the league aimed to expand to 16 teams again but faced a shortage.

Shanghai United, previously known as Shanghai Zobon, merged with Shanghai Shenhua due to ownership changes, allowing Shanghai Shenhua to retain its name.

In 2008, the season started with 16 clubs, but Wuhan withdrew after a dispute with the CFA, resulting in 15 clubs finishing the season. Since 2009, the CSL has operated with 16 clubs. Two teams are relegated to the China League One, while two teams are promoted each season.

In 2010, the league faced a major scandal involving football gambling, match-fixing, and corruption, leading to nationwide actions against these issues.

The CFA relegated Guangzhou Yiyao and Chengdu Blades for their involvement in match-fixing. By 2011, the anti-corruption movement had improved the league’s image, attracting increased attendance.

Clubs like Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua began investing heavily in foreign star players, including the likes of Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, and Seydou Keita.

Renowned coaches such as Marcello Lippi and Sergio Batista also joined CSL clubs. In 2012, Guangzhou Evergrande became the first team to defend their CSL title and win consecutive championships.

However, Dalian Shide, an eight-time champion, faced financial difficulties and dissolved after the arrest of club owner Xu Ming.

In 2013, David Beckham became the first global ambassador for the CSL, and Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao won the Asian Champions League, a historic achievement for Chinese football.

Guangzhou Evergrande continued its dominance, winning four consecutive CSL titles from 2014 to 2017.

During this period, the CSL attracted global attention as high-profile players like Oscar, Carlos Tevez, and Alexandre Pato moved to Chinese clubs.

In 2018, Shanghai SIPG broke Guangzhou Evergrande’s seven-year holding on the CSL title.

The league also introduced a professional referee system in 2019, hiring foreign referees like Mark Clattenburg and Milorad Mažić.

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Conclusion

The top 5 best football leagues in Asia in 2023 are the K League Classic, Persian Gulf Pro League, J1 League, A-League, and Chinese Super League.

These leagues have made great strides in improving the quality of football and attracting international attention.