Soccer vs Football: The Great Debate

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and football is the most popular in the USA – This is the reason for the great debate.

While soccer is slowly growing in states, football remains the most loved, and it does not look like changing any time soon.

With so many questions in this debate, this article covers them all and with a balanced view.

Soccer vs Football
Soccer vs Football

Which came first – soccer or football?

Officially soccer was properly formed in 1848 and football was formed in 1869.

The origin of soccer is somewhat debated by people across the globe. The earliest form of the game is often traced back about two thousand years to China’s Han Dynasty.

However, similar games played in other regions of the world like Greece, Rome, and the Aztec Empire. These versions would have been unrecognizable from today’s game. 

Ronaldo
  • Regardless, a more recognizable form of the game came from England. Early games were much more violent than what we see today.

The game changed over time. First, each region, university, or club had its own rules. Eventually, it was decided there should be a standard.

This gave rise to the Cambridge Rules in 1848. This is considered the birth of the modern game. 

In light of that, football after soccer. It was born out of a combination of soccer and rugby.

The first-ever college football game was played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869.

Because the game was so new, it had to adapt to rule changes and eventually a uniform set of rules.

Similar to soccer’s Cambridge Rules, a set of football rules were developed in the 1880s. 

Who is faster, an NFL or soccer player?

The NFL’s Raheem Mostert is the fastest football player, clocking in at a top speed of 23.09. On the soccer side, Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich ran at a top speed of 22.68 mph.

Every player is different, but the top speeds for each sport are very comparable.

There are incredibly fast athletes in both the NFL and in professional soccer.

  • When it comes to top-level professional athletes, there are only marginal differences that set the athletes apart.

Each sport is full of athletes at a fitness level most of us could not even believe. 

The speed of football players will differ more widely than for soccer players.

Offensive and defensive linemen, for example, are typically much bigger and more powerful, but not necessarily fast.

A wide receiver, running back, or linebacker on the other hand requires a great deal more speed. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26, 2020 Alphonso Davies of Bayern pictured during the 201920 UEFA Champions League Round of 16 game between Chelsea FC and Bayern Munich at Stamford Bridge.
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 26, 2020 Alphonso Davies of Bayern pictured during the 201920 UEFA Champions League Round of 16 game between Chelsea FC and Bayern Munich at Stamford Bridge.

Which is better, soccer or football?

Soccer is greater than football, because of its worldwide popularity, you can play at any age, only a ball is needed, and it’s simple but technical.

Although asking what is better between soccer and football is going to be a matter of personal preference. They’re both great sports that are worth watching.

Personally, I prefer soccer to football. I enjoy football but have an extensive soccer background.

There are numerous reasons why I prefer soccer over football; 

  • Ease of access – a ball and some space are all you really need to start playing soccer.
  • The barrier to entry is so low – which is why it’s so popular all across the world. No expensive equipment is required.
  • Fluidity – soccer doesn’t stop. Each pass and run are important to try and score. It’s vastly different from football where the game is constantly stopping. In an NFL game made up of four 15 minute quarters, the ball is in play for an average of about 11 total minutes. 
  • Simplicity – it’s said that soccer is simple to play, but difficult to play simple. The basic concept of soccer is easy to understand. Two teams. One ball. Kick the ball into the net.

Compare and contrast Of Soccer and Football

Football and soccer are unalike in many ways. There are still quite a few similarities between the two: 

Similarities

  • Played with 11 players on each team.
  • The point of the game is to move the ball from one end of the field to the other to score points. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
  • Games are usually played on grass or artificial grass
  • Passionate fan bases
  • Growing television contracts

The differences

Ultimately, these are two totally different games that do not have much in common. 

  • Offense vs. defense – in soccer the entire team plays offense and defense. There are different positions that might have more of an attacking or defensive focus, but the game is played continuously. Football  has an entirely set of players for offense and defense. 
  • Ball – soccer uses a round ball. A football is oblong or “egg-shaped.”
  • Point system – in soccer there is only one way to score – kick the ball into the goal. In football, there are multiple ways to get different amounts of points. This makes for interesting tactical decisions in order to try and win the game.
  • Plays – in football, each play has been predesigned. The offensive players know exactly where they are going to run before the ball is snapped so that their quarterback knows where the open players might be. Some teams have “plays” for set pieces and corner kicks, they are much less strict than football plays. 
  • Timeouts – in football, before you run a play, you are able to take a timeout to discuss game plans, change a play call, or simply give your team a breather. 
  • Physicality – Contact is common in both sports, but football is by far the more physical. Hard hits and tackles take place on just about every play. 

The popularity of soccer and football

Soccer is by far the most popular sport by every measurable metric. It’s estimated that between 250 and 270 million people play the sport globally.

It’s the most popular sport in nearly every country. 

Football is very popular in the United States. There are fans in other countries, but only very few. For that reason, it’s dwarfed globally by soccer.

  • There are about 5 million tackle football participants. That number has been declining dramatically since 2006.

There are a number of reasons for the declining population in football. The most notable being the potential health risks for football players. 

To play soccer all you need is a ball. You can kick around alone or play a full 11v11 game and anything in-between.

Starting out in football is expensive and requires lots of equipment to play. Unlike soccer, football is difficult to play in a small group. This aids soccer’s popularity.

Soccer vs Football: Viewership

When it comes to viewership, soccer and football consistently earn some of the highest television ratings.

In the American television market, football is king. The NFL dominates everything else. In 2020, 13 of the top 20 most-watched television programs were football games.

The NFL held 12 of those with the Super Bowl being the highest-rated program of the year at just over 102 million viewers.

Even football’s numbers pale in comparison to soccer’s global viewership numbers. FIFA released their viewership numbers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

  • They estimated 3.572 billion people tuned in throughout the event with 1.12 worldwide viewers tuning in to the final between France and Croatia. 

In the U.S., numbers were lower in this past World Cup than in previous ones. Most of this decline can be attributed to the U.S. men’s national team’s failure to qualify.

Still, nearly two million people tuned in to each game. Not an insignificant number over the course of the entire event without a team involved. 

Soccer vs Football: Fans

Soccer fans are seen as some of the more passionate fan bases in the world. For club and country, fans go to great lengths to support their teams.

Traveling to away matches and singing songs for the entire game is common behavior for many soccer fans.

To them, it’s more than a sport, it’s their religion. The stadium is their church. 

Football also has fantastic fan bases. At the college level (especially Division-I) and in the NFL, sellouts are common.

Stadiums are full of fan bases who love their team and they create a wonderful environment.

Saturdays and Sundays in the fall, you can find a huge percentage of Americans watching football. 

Both sports have excellent fans in their own right. There is an inherent “us vs. them” complex that can be dangerous when passion turns into violence.

Still, most fan interactions remain good. 

We learned during the Coronavirus pandemic that the noise and energy that fan energy cannot be replicated. Fans are an integral part of sports.

Soccer vs Football: Money

Sports are a multi-billion dollar industry that is growing every year. FIFA alone generates over $260 million in revenue yearly. Meanwhile, the NFL brought in $12 billion in 2020. 

Most sports teams are owned by the very rich. They are used as another money-making vehicle that helps diversify their already large portfolio.

Owning a sports team, especially a good one, can be seen as a status symbol in addition to returning a hefty chunk of change.

Each year, Forbes puts out a list of the most valuable sports teams in the world. Football and soccer teams are always prevalent.  

The 2020 list had the Dallas Cowboys as the most valuable sports team – coming in at $5.7 billion. In fact, 11 out of the top 25 most valuable sports teams in the world are NFL teams.

  • Meanwhile, 6 of the top 25 are soccer teams. Household names like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Manchester United are unsurprisingly leading the way

The growing value of these teams shows no signs of slowing down. 

With new state-of-the-art stadiums being built, ticket prices increasing, and media companies and sponsors shelling out billions each year, more money will continue to be poured into soccer and football. 

22.06.2018. Saint Petersburg, Russian NEYMAR in action during the Fifa World Cup Russia 2018, Group E, football game between BRAZIL V COSTARICA in Saint Petersburg Stadium.
22.06.2018. Saint Petersburg, Russian NEYMAR in action during the Fifa World Cup Russia 2018, Group E, football game between BRAZIL V COSTARICA in Saint Petersburg Stadium.

Soccer vs Football: Salary 

Neymar is the highest-paid soccer player at $263 per year and in the NLF it’s Patrick Mahomes on $45 per year.

A big difference between the NFL and most soccer leagues is that the NFL operates under a salary cap. Each team has a set amount of money to disperse amongst their roster yearly.

The idea behind this is that working within these rules helps level the playing field. In 2022 each team’s salary will be capped at $208.2 million. 

Because of the NFL’s structure, the league minimum salary is negotiated by the NFL Player’s Union. Per their collective bargaining agreement, the minimum salary is $660,000.

  • The highest-paid players make many millions of dollars. Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, tops out the list raking in $45 million yearly.

When you take into account practice players and players lower on the depth chart, the average NFL salary is nearly $900,000.

The top-end multi-million dollar salaries are reserved for star players.

The system in professional soccer is totally different and varies widely from league to league. 

With the exception of Major League Soccer (MLS), soccer leagues do not use a salary cap.

This means they do not have collective bargaining agreements that set things like league minimum salaries.

That structure opens the door for players to get paid whatever their team’s owner can afford. 

As more money is poured into the sport, the price of players is increasing dramatically. 

When a soccer player moves teams, the club that acquires the player pays a transfer fee.

This essentially gives them the rights to the player and pay their wage. Transfer fee money to bring in other players or make improvements at the club. 

Giant transfer fees and wage bills are making it difficult for small teams to keep up.

All of the top ten highest transfer fees have been made in the last 8 years.

  • The record is held by Neymar who was sold from Barcelona (LaLiga) to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) (Ligue 1) for $263 million.

With PSG, Neymar is on a salary of $36.8 million yearly. All-in-all, PSG is spending a massive sum of money on just one player. 

Soccer Vs Football: Rules

Soccer and football operate under very different sets of rules. One of the most obvious differences between the two is that football is played with the hands.

SoccerFootball
TimeTwo halves – 45 minutes eachFour quarters – 15 minutes each
Players11 each11 each
Point System1 goal = 1 pointTouchdown = 7, Field goal = 3, Safety = 2, Extra point = 1
PenaltiesHandball
Shirt pulling
Pushing/punching
“Cleats up” slide tackle
Dissent
Holding
Pass interference
Targeting
False start
Offside
Soccer vs. Football Rules Comparrison

Football Overview

  1. The ball is thrown or handed off to teammates in order to advance the ball into the opponent’s end zone.
  2. The offense gets four opportunities to move the ball 10 yards. If they do, they get a new set of downs to continue moving the ball. 
  3. While the offense is trying to move the ball, the goal of the defense is to stop them.
  4. Tackling an offensive player to the ground stops the play. 
  5. Each play starts with both teams lined up against each other.
  6. The center on the offense starts the play by snapping the ball to the quarterback.
  7. The play continues until an offensive player is tackled or a throw is unsuccessful.

Although football can be violent, there are rules against certain acts that result in varying degrees of penalties.

Penalties on the offensive team move them backward, further from a first down. Defensive penalties do the opposite, move the offense closer to a first down. 

Soccer Overview

Soccer, meanwhile, is played exclusively using the feet (with the exception of the goalkeeper).

  1. There is constant passing and movement. Unless there is a stoppage because of a foul or goal, play is continuous. 
  2. Offside is seen as the most complicated rule to understand. It occurs when an attacking player is behind the opponent’s last defender the moment the ball is passed to them by a teammate.
  3. A regular foul will be a free kick given to the opponent. Some conduct is subject to a yellow card (caution) or red card (ejection) being shown.
  4. Two yellow cards within the same game are equal to a red card and the player will be ejected from the game. 

Soccer Vs Football: Field – Dimensions

The surface and general size of soccer and football fields are roughly the same – 120 yards by 50 to 70. At the youth levels, soccer and football often share a field. 

A regulation soccer field is between 110 -120 yards long and 70-80 yards wide. The 18-yard box surrounding each goal is the only area where the goalkeeper is allowed to use their hands. 

A football field is 120 yards long (including the end zones) by 53.3 yards wide. There are lines that show each yard and longer lines indicating every 5 yards. 

Soccer Vs Football: Cleats/Equipment

To help with traction and prevent slipping, players wear cleats. Each sport has cleats designed specifically to meet their needs. 

soccer cleats turf
Soccer Cleats

In soccer, cleats are one of the very few pieces of equipment needed. Football requires many pads, a helmet, gloves, and other equipment in addition to cleats.

American football cleats
American Football Cleats

Soccer Vs Football: Injuries

The physical nature of both sports means that injuries are unfortunately common. There is an inherent risk that is assumed any time you sign up to play either sport. 

Some of the common injuries for both sports include:

  • Concussion – heading the ball in soccer or being tackled in football can cause concussions. These can be extremely dangerous, especially in young people. 
  • Ligament damage – both of these sports require explosive leg power. This puts your knees under a great deal of stress. Turning the wrong way or being hit in the knee can do structural damage resulting in torn or strained ligaments (e.g. ACLs). These types of injuries often require surgical repair and strenuous rehab to get back to full fitness. 
  • Muscle injuries – even athletes who are as fit as the ones at the top level experience muscle injuries. Not warming up and stretching properly or recovering enough leaves your muscles subject to pulls and tears. Although they often don’t require surgery, they can be painful and leave an athlete out of competition for a long time. 

A 2017 study looked at the brains of deceased football players.

  • It found that a staggering 99% of NFL players, 91% of college football players, and 21% of high school football players have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is caused in part by repeated blows to the head. Something that is extremely common on every play in a football game. 

Because of this, parents have been reluctant to have their youth athletes play football. Instead, they are opting for sports with less head-to-head contact – like soccer. 

Soccer Vs Football: Coaches

Both games are headed by coaches and their assistants. They have a team that each specializes in areas of the field, positions and tactics.

In soccer, the head coach is supported by assistant coaches. They often take on specific responsibilities such as focusing on improving a specific position (e.g. goalkeepers). 

Football teams tend to have more coaches. Under the head coach, there are offensive, defensive, and special teams coordinators who oversee each side of the ball.

Depending on the team, the coordinators may make the play calls using a predetermined game plan. Each position will then have a position coach under them.

Who wins? Soccer or Football

Nothing brings us together like sports. It creates communities and provides a distraction to everyday life.

When it comes down to it, both sports are great. Each has its pros and cons, but the debate over which is better may never end. 


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