“Won’t somebody please think of the coefficient?”
The Premier League is sleepwalking into a PR nightmare.
By the 2017-18 season, the self-styled ‘best league in the world’ could have just three teams playing in the Champions League.
This is based upon a very simple projection of performance in UEFA competitions for the coming seasons. A more favourable, but still simple projection has the Premier League losing its spot a season later.
UEFA awards four Champions League places to only its three top-ranked countries. The ranking system takes an unweighted look at the last five years of performance of each country’s teams in its two competitions. Performance is based on a system that awards points for achievements such as wins, draws and tournament progression, all going towards a country coefficient. In 2014-15, England have the fewest coefficient points of Europe’s biggest four leagues, the first time this has happened since the restructuring of coefficients in 2009 (note that this is the coefficient of individual seasons, not the overall ranking at the end of that season. The ranking sums the previous five season’s coefficients).
The ranking at the end of the 2015-16 season – which sums the previous five seasons’ coefficients – will dictate how many places are available in each league to qualify for the Champions League during the 2016-17 season. The make up of teams in the 2017-18 Champions League campaign eventually reflects the 2015-16 season’s rankings.
As it stands, England are second in the rankings, narrowly ahead of Germany. However, if we use a simple projection system* of assuming that each team’s 2014-15 performance will be repeated for the next four seasons, England quickly slip to fourth in the table, with their reasonably strong showing in 2010-11 relegated from the ranking system.
In this scenario, only the top three teams in England would qualify for the 2017-18 Champions League; surely a disaster for a league that wants to attract the world’s best talent to all its top teams.
Many will argue that 2014-15 was an anomaly for English clubs, and that performance was still reasonable, if not outstanding, in the previous years. However, even when assuming that performances over the last two or three years is indicative of future seasons, the Premier League stands to lose its final Champions League place by the start of the 2018-19 season.
An assumption of the average of 2012-15 coefficients being repeated into the future yields the same outcome:
English teams must hope for a few things. Firstly, and most obviously, that English performance improves. As an example, Manchester City were England’s third best-performing team this season, but four Spanish, four Italian and five German clubs won more coefficient points than City. Europa League performance isn’t to be scoffed at either; Everton only made the round of 16 but earned just one less point than City.
Secondly, they must hope that the performance of Italian clubs in the near future drops off to levels in the early part of the decade; Juventus, Napoli and Fiorentina’s runs in this season’s competitions will be relevant in the rankings all the way to 2019.
It’s hard to argue that the Premier League itself could do more to help its teams in Europe. For all the supposed costs of a winter break and sometimes unfavourable scheduling, the teams have the budgets to build deep squads capable of reaching the latter stages of UEFA’s competitions. However, it might want to consider compromising a little on its product in the short term – fewer Sunday kick offs, for example – in order to help maintain its four Champions League spots. Without them, it’d be almost impossible to consider itself the world’s best domestic competition.
*It is worth nothing that these are hugely simplistic projections. Bert Kasseis’s excellent website provides more background on how the coefficients are calculated; in all of these projections the country’s coefficient for the relevant year(s) are simply averaged and extrapolated into future seasons.