The Liga I is Romania’s primary football competition, and it’s administered by Liga Profesionistă de Fotbal (LPF). It’s contested by 14 clubs and operates on the promotion/relegation system with the second-tier Liga II. The league’s champion gains access to the Champions League qualifiers, with the teams ranked 2-4 qualifying for the Europa League preliminary rounds.
Organizer: Liga Profesionistă de Fotbal
Foundation and early years
The first Romanian Football Championship was organized in 1909, and it included three teams: Olympia București, Colentina București, and United Ploiești. Early on, the championship consisted of the teams playing one fixture with each other, totaling a number of three matches. Olympia won the first title and managed to defend it the following season, with United Ploiești breaking their streak in 1912.
From 1913, the championship was expanded to regional groups, with the winners of each group participating in the final tournament. This arrangement lasted until 1921, with a three-year break from 1916 to 1919 due to World War I. The competition during this period was fairly even, and no team managing to claim more than two league titles.
The Divizia A era
In 1921, the championship became a national competition, consisting of Division A and Division B. The inaugural Division A league contained seven teams, with Chinezul Timișoara coming out on top. Chinezul proceeded to win six straight titles before the rise of Ripensia Timișoara and Venus București in the ‘30s. In the pre-WWII period, these two teams won 9 out of 10 possible league titles.
After the war, the competition was expanded to include 14 teams. From 1955, the league’s champion gained access to the European Cup qualifying round. Dinamo București was the first Romanian team to reach the final stage of the tournament, a feat they achieved 13 times overall. Steaua București won the entire competition in 1985, before the change to the format made it much harder for Romanian teams to qualify.
Domestically, the first several post-war decades saw a relatively even field before Dinamo established itself as the leader of the pack in the ‘60s. By the time the ‘80s arrived, the championship race became a two-team affair between Dinamo and Steaua. The league was eventually expanded to 18 teams, but the teams from the capital continued to dominate the field.
Liga I and beyond
In 2006, the competition had to change its name to Liga I due to trademark disputes. Dinamo won the inaugural Liga I before yielding its place to CFR Cluj, a team that went on to claim five out of the following 13 titles. In 2008, Cluj also became the first Romanian team to directly qualify for the new Champions League. Fotbal Club FCSB (formerly Steaua) was also successful during this period, winning three consecutive titles from 2013 to 2015.
Since 2015, the Liga I consists of 14 teams that play each other for 26 fixtures. After that, they either enter the championship play-off or the relegation play-out. The two lowest-ranked teams in the play-out are relegated to the Liga II, with the third-lowest playing in the relegation play-off.
Liga I is the top tier of the Romanian football league system. The Romanian second football league has existed since 1934 and named Liga II (before 2007 Divizia B). Inaugurated two years later was the third football league, Liga III (before 2007 Divizia C).
The Romanian league system also include Liga IV and Liga V, which are not played on national level.
Teams with most titles
Statistics of all clubs that have won the top league more than once, concerning the period 1919-2020.
The remaining Romanian champions are Astra Giurgiu, CA Oradea, CSM Reșița, Oțelul Galați, Colțea Braşov, Prahova Ploiești, Româno-Americană București, Unirea Urziceni and United Ploiești.
FCSB was known as CSA Steaua Bucureşti between the years 1961 and 2017. Chinezul Timișoara was dissolved in 1946. Colentina București was dissolved in 1947. Olympia București was dissolved in 1946.
By Dimitris Basias