Over the last 40 years or so, Eastern European football clubs won only two European Champions Cups and three UEFA Europa League/Cup trophies. Only a couple of trophies over such a long period is a mediocre record for the East, but the even more concerning fact is that, with the way things are evolving in European football, the drought is set to continue.
Let’s not forget that in the 90s, the most prominent teams from Eastern Europe like Red Star Belgrade and Steaua Bucharest could lift the most sought-after trophies with local talent picked only within the borders of their countries. However, financial problems, corrupt club owners, and a lack of long-term planning have created a massive gap between East and West. Be that as it may, Eastern Europe has some leagues whose teams are competing in the most prestigious soccer leagues – the Champions League and the Europa League. So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look.
Russian Premier League
Football is the number one sport in Russia, even more popular than ice hockey. The Russian Premier League is growing exponentially, mostly due to huge sponsorship deals and a high degree of competitiveness. Every year, there are several teams capable of winning the title, and the winning team usually wins the title by a small margin over its biggest competition.
All the top-tier teams in this league are sponsored by juggernaut companies like Gazprom (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Lukoil (FC Spartak Moscow), and Russian Railways (FC Lokomotiv Moscow). Because of this, top Russian teams are able to compete for the most elite players on the transfer market like Hulk, Witsel, and so on.
The top level of the Russian league system consists of 16 teams. Zenit St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow have been the most dominant teams in the league since its introduction in 2002, with five and six titles, respectively.
The Russian league is considered the best in Eastern Europe and is ranked (by UEFA) as the sixth strongest league in the old continent. Most notable accomplishments by Russian teams are the two UEFA Cup trophies won by CSKA Moscow in 2005, and Zenit in 2008.
Turkish Super Lig
Turkey’s top football teams may not be receiving the media coverage that the elite Western Europe leagues enjoy, but they are a part of one of the most popular football leagues in Europe. The Super Lig features 18 teams, with the Big Three of Besiktas, Fenerbahce, and Galatasaray being the league’s most dominant forces since its inauguration. These teams are backed by millions of fans and powerful businessmen and political figures. It is hard to believe that a team outside Istanbul can manage to win a title. Still, Trabzonspor and other cities have started breaking the Big 3 powerhouses’ monopoly around ten years ago.
Right now, the top four teams in the Turkish Super Lig are Alanyaspor, Fenerbahce, Trabzonspor, and Sivaspor. Galatasaray and Besiktas, the regular contenders from Istanbul, are struggling to keep up with the first four, and the gap is widening.
The most notable achievement by Turkish clubs in recent history is the UEFA Cup title won by Galatasaray in 2000. Since then, no team from Turkey has gotten past the semifinals in both the Europa League and the Champions League. Fenerbahce was the last team from Turkey to make it to the semifinals of major UEFA competitions, having played the semis in the 2013 Europa League.