David Izinyon: from CFL to ELF

David Izinyon’s signing with the Berlin Thunder following his release from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is the most recent trans-Atlantic move between the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the European League Football (ELF), but it is far from the first.

In 2022 alone, three Europeans were drafted in the CFL Global Draft – Karlis Brauns (BC Lions), Lukas Ruoss (Saskatchewan Roughriders) and John Levi Krus (BC Lions). Ruoss and Levi Krus turned their CFL offers down and Brauns was released by the Lions after training camp.

All three, as well as other former CFL players Maxime Rouyer (Edmonton Elks) and Benjamin Plu (BC Lions), are now playing their football in the ELF. With players moving back from the CFL to the ELF, it begs the question, how do the two compare?

From a broadcast production standpoint, the CFL is superior. With 10-15 cameras, quality commentators and mainstream broadcasters, it is hard for the ELF to compete. But outside of some awkward English commentary, the presentation of ELF is unlike anything Europe has seen before. It’s the first time in years that European football has had a marketable product and a professional feel, opening the door for more sponsors.

On social media, ELF’s consistency and creativity has amassed 100k followers on Instagram and 18.8k on Twitter compared to that of the CFL who currently sit at around 180k on Instagram and 305k on Twitter. Considering the CFL has about 100 years on ELF, it’s encouraging for their future.

In terms of post-game stats, stories and highlights, the CFL, like the NFLoffers information within minutes. The ELF, with a ‘skeleton crew’, offers something not dissimilar. It may lack the presentation and depth, but it again surpasses any other league within Europe.

From a financial perspective, the difference in pay between the two leagues is still significant for Global players on active rosters. However, it gets tougher for practice-roster Globals when living costs are factored in. Of course, this is with the assumption that most Europeans fill a practice squad slot in the CFL – earning just $750 CAD (€550) a month – and are one of the most valuable domestic assets for an ELF team. Otherwise, players in the CFL earn significantly more than their ELF counterparts.

The situation that most Europeans find themselves in when entering the CFL is not always favorable as once they are activated from the practice squad to the game-day roster, they have to find their own accommodation. If this activation is due to an injury, it is likely that the player will then get deactivated once a player recovers or someone else is brought in and their self-paid accommodation no longer needed.

It isn’t like the NFL International Pathway Program where NFL teams have the wherewithal to provide players with a two- to three-year practice roster contracts. Global players in the CFL don’t have the same security as the money is nowhere near the same. Although they are only competing with other Global players for the very restricted Global roster spots (one active and two practice roster), it is still tough at times.

For Izinyon though, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats organization, being professional, was excellent. He did say though that the Berlin Thunder was the best he had encountered in Europe: 

My time in the CFL was good. I was with a great organization that took care of me. I met some guys I still call brothers today.

In ELF I can’t speak for other teams, but with Berlin the professional standard that I was met with when I joined the team was the best I’ve been around in Europe. Thunder is a great organization that looks after their players and really cares which is always number one in my books.

But how does the on-field product compare to the CFL? With a large number of the Canadian population playing from a young age in a reputable collegiate system, Canada’s proximity to the United States and the sheer volume of Americans in the league, it’s hard to imagine a world where European football can match it.

To be honest, on the football side, the game is faster and more physical in Canada. Canadian football asks for a different skill set. But it’s good here, the speed and physical nature of the game is at a high level in the ELF for sure. 

The CFL is still the second-best league in the world, and by a wide margin. Outside of personal circumstance, there is little logic in choosing the ELF over the CFLBut the amount that the pan-European league has achieved in such a short time bodes well for the future of football on the continent.

And for those wishing to improve their game and play at the highest level possible outside of the NFL, it remains the CFL. Something Izinyon can attest to:

The biggest takeaway was how much knowledge and teaching I soaked up. I learnt so much from when I was out there with the defensive line, from pass rushing stuff to tweaking little techniques that make you a better player. It’s something you can’t get over here.

The culture of the Tiger Cats also taught me how to be a better man on and off the football field so I’m really forever grateful for my time in the CFL.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.