by Matthew West
Same as it ever was, as Talking Heads would say. That was the overall feeling many were left with after this weeks Champion’s League group stage draw. The same sides, placed in the same pots, and drawn against the same teams. The Champion’s League is vast becoming a tedious, disappointing spectacle for Europe’s football fans. Not that UEFA care too much: as long as the established elite football clubs are happy, and UEFA coffers remain overflowing, they’ll continue to trundle out Gianni Infantino each August.
Take Manchester City for example, last season’s Champion’s League saw them paired with Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen. This season? They’ve been paired with Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, and AS Roma. In fact City and Bayern have now been drawn in the same group as each other in 3 out of the last 4 seasons. The same is true of Arsenal and their regular sparring partner Borussia Dortmund, whilst Chelsea find themselves in the same group as Schalke 04 for a successive season. The clubs are probably unperturbed by this, they will have well trodden routes to follow, hotels they know, training facilities they have previously experienced, plans they can recycle from previous seasons. It’s the fans that are more greatly affected. Those who wish to travel to the away matches find themselves unable to experience the delights of a new city; instead they’ve got trips to the same boring locations. Then there’s the home games: is your average fan of Manchester City really all that excited about watching Bayern Munich, for the 3rd time, at home? Including away matches City will have met Bayern 6 times in the space of 4 seasons. Arsenal fans too may not be jumping for joy at the prospect of Dortmund, yet again, either. So, what’s the solution to this continuing tedium? The answer lies in the UEFA coefficient system.
This system currently works on a 5 year cycle, this current season the coefficient is made up of the points accrued during the 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons, mainly from European competitions. Each nation is assigned a “base score” dependent upon the league in which they play their football, this is the case for all sides within that nation, and not just those who happen to be in Europe. Manchester United, for example, may not be in Europe this season, but will still accrue somewhere in the region of 3.5 coefficient points by virtue of being in the English league, less successful leagues, such as the Latvian League, will also have a coefficient score given to their clubs, but it will be of a lower value. In the grand scheme of things, however, this nation score is pretty irrelevant. It’s the points accrued in European competition that really matter.
Coefficient points are accrued by progressing through European Competitions. Last season’s Champion’s League winner, Real Madrid, were awarded 39.600 coefficient points for the feat. It’s not just progress that counts though, if you win matches along the way then that helps too, Benfica were awarded 30.983 points for playing in the Champion’s League, dropping into the Europa League, and then losing in the final of that competition. Sevilla on the other hand, started the season in the Europa League, and went on to win the whole thing, yet were only awarded 26.600 points for their efforts! The issue many have with the coefficient points process is that it is a self perpetuating system that maintains the same sides at the top of the rankings season on season. This goes a long way towards situations like the Bayern/City one occurring. Teams are seeded in Pot 1, these sides as a result are drawn in comparatively easier groups, they progress from those groups, thus gain high coefficient points, and maintaining their position in Pot 1 for next season, where the same scenario plays out again. Arsenal are probably the prime example of this. In the past 5 seasons, Arsenal have reached the Quarter Final once, and lost in the first knockout stage 4 times. Yet this has been enough to keep them in Pot 1 each subsequent season with an overall coefficient score of 112.949 which placed them 9th overall in Europe (7th this season as a result of Valencia failing to qualify for the Champion’s League, who are ranked 8th in Europe, and Manchester United failing to qualify for Europe at all, who are 6th ranked). Hands up all those people who actually believe that Arsenal are the 7th best side in this season’s Champion’s League?
So, how do we ensure that there is greater variety in the Champion’s League groups, and, more importantly, how do we begin to reward domestic success, whilst also stopping the unjust rewarding of European mediocrity? A change to the way coefficient points are calculated would seem the ideal solution, although changing this would be fraught with difficulties, as Europe’s “top” sides, or at least those classed as “top” sides by virtue of the current coefficient system, will be unwilling to change without certain assurances. A situation by which clubs with limited actual recent success, like the Arsenal example, are still classed as one of Europe’s elite, whilst sides with recent domestic success, like Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, PSG and Juventus, languish lower down the pecking order, is one which surely needs to be addressed.
A fairer situation would be for domestic success, alongside European success, to be factored into the coefficient scoring system. Yes, if you progress within the Champion’s League, or the Europa League to a lesser extent, that should be rewarded in future seasons, but so should being the domestic champion of a European league, especially one of the bigger, more difficult, leagues like the Premier League, La Liga, Seria A or the Bundesliga. This is, after all, the CHAMPION’S League, that can’t be allowed to become just a name used by a competition which supports bigger clubs rather than successful ones. I’d suggest something like the following –
1 – Scrap the “nation” points as a concept. You only get points for your domestic league if you finish in a qualifying position for your domestic league. Why should Aston Villa get more points this season than Kilmarnock, or Auxerre? If you qualify great, if you don’t you get nothing.
2 – Coefficient points are awarded to sides that qualify for Europe, on a decreasing scale depending upon where you finished in your league, and with a weighting applied to the more “difficult” leagues. So, if you win the Premier League, for this season you get 20 coefficient points. Runner Up gets 16 points. 3rd place gets 12 points, with 4th getting 8 points. If you win a “lesser league”, like the Estonian league for example, you get less points, so potentially 10 points for winning that league. This way it still rewards those sides that have been successful, but also acknowledges that it’s easier to win a league like the Estonian one than to finish 3rd in the Premier League.
3 – Continue with coefficient points being awarded for European progress, but make it so, at the very least, domestic success is on a par with European success. If winning the Premier League gets you 20 points, then winning the Champion’s League shouldn’t get you any more than 20 points.
Is the above a fool proof solution? No, but it’s an attempt at rewarding those sides that are currently successful at a domestic level, something which the current coefficient system woefully neglects. Take Juventus as an example; they have won Seria A for the last 3 straight seasons, yet find themselves behind Schalke 04 in the UEFA coefficient rankings, a side who can’t even claim to be in the top 2 best sides from Germany. This can’t be a situation that is allowed to continue. The current UEFA coefficient system sees the best sides of present day being treated as second class clubs whilst those sides who historically have done well in European competition are given an unfair “leg up” and advantage.