Why you should care about the UEFA Coefficients

In passing, you may have heard about UEFA coefficients – those mysterious numbers that govern entrants, seeding, etc. in tournaments like the Champions League and the Europa League. Maybe you’ve even read a basic guide, like the wikipedia page, or maybe you out did yourself and read the stats geek deep-dive.

However, supporters of clubs like SC Freiburg, 1.FC Köln or FC Ingolstadt might ask themselves: “Why should I care about all this UEFA nonsense?”

Well, we have seen FC Augsburg, VfB Stuttgart, Mainz 05, Hannover 96, SC Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt play in European matches within the last 5 years. This year, Hertha BSC and Mainz are in a good position to make it and create memories like this one:

Anybody’s team could theoretically finish 3rd or 4th within the next five years too and all of a sudden it really matters how Bayern & Dortmund did in Europe five years ago.

The three best countries in the Coefficient ranking get seven spots in UEFA competitions, three of these spots are non-stop tickets to the Champions League.

It doesn’t matter if a league is ranked 1st, 2nd or 3rd, but once it drops to 4th (7th or 10th etc.) starting spots will be taken away.

Why this stuff matters

Pogba-Xhaka

Gladbach finished 3rd in 2015 and went straight into the CL group stage draw. The foals made 13 million Euros in TV money even though they finished last in their group. In the Europa League Dortmund, Augsburg and Schalke were paid 2.5 million € each from the TV pool even though they advanced from their group.

Had the Bundesliga been the 4th ranked coefficient league Gladbach would have entered the Qualification Playoffs. Fourth place Leverkusen would have been sent directly into the less lucrative Europa League without a shot at the Champions League Qualifiers. Thomas Tuchel and his delightful 2016 BVB squad would have been out of Europe period.

They only got in on a 7th place finish that granted them a berth in the Europa League playoffs because of a good coefficient rank.

In other words: Gladbach could have lost more than 10 million Euros while Leverkusen and Dortmund would have lost a ton of money for sure. And I have not even mentioned the non-monetary value of a Champions League campaign.

So whenever the club you support has a great season, you probably don’t want to see your boys get kicked out in the Qualifiers or sent to the 2nd tier competition.

So I always get irritated when I see Germans rooting against Bayern internationally.

It happened last week when I watched Bayern-Juventus in a Frankfurt hotel lobby and Bayern went down 0-2 early. It also happens on social media a lot.

To root against ANY German club when they play a foreign team is just stupid, especially when you call yourself a Bundesliga supporter.

Bayern’s success puts money in everybody’s pockets and adds prestige to our league as I explained above. How does trolling disappointed Bayern fans help your team?

Well, Bayern earning coefficient points actually can help your team.

The love of your own club should be stronger than the hatred you feel towards Bayern Munich. It’s that simple.

Should Dortmund win the Europa League this year, Schalke might profit from it in 2021. That’s how the UEFA Coefficient system is set up, if you like it or not.

The Coefficient Picture from 2011/12 to 2015/16

  1. La Liga (Spain) 100 (coefficient points)
  2. Bundesliga (Germany) 79
  3. Premier League (England) 75
  4. Serie A (Italy) 70
  5. Primeira Liga (Portugal) 53
  6. Ligue 1 (France) 53

Teams still alive per league:

La Liga: Real, Barca, Atletico (CL); Villarreal, Bilbao, Sevilla (EL).

Bundesliga:  Bayern, Wolfsburg (CL); Dortmund (EL).

Premier League: Man City (CL); Liverpool (EL).

Serie A: None.

La Liga teams have been dominating Europe like the Roman Empire did back in the day.

Of course they are first in the Coefficient ranking and 30 points clear of 4th place. Real, Barca, Sevilla and co. could take two years off from UEFA football and would still be in the Top 3. That’s how excellent they’ve been.

During the last 10 seasons los equipos españoles claimed 11 of 20 available UEFA trophies, while the other 53 UEFA nations just won 9 between them.

Of course, having Real, Atletico and Barca helps but don’t sleep on those excellent middle class teams like Villarreal, who kicked out Napoli and Leverkusen back to back for example.

This year, Valencia CF is the only club from the Primera Division who got booted.

Guess who kicked them out? Athletic Bilbao.

Yup, neither the Bundesliga nor any other league will catch up to the Spanish Conquistadores anytime soon. At least as long as Catalonia and the Basque region don’t declare independence from Spain.

So Bundesliga clubs must primarily care about how the Premier League and Serie A are doing for the foreseeable future.

Bundesliga vs. Serie A

 

LarsRicken
BVB’s Lars Ricken in action during European play back in the 90s.

The Bundesliga has earned itself a nice 9 point lead over Serie A. Portugal’s teams earn 9 points per year on average to put this number in perspective. Nine points is huge and it will take the Italians years to make that up.

Serie A, to everyone’s surprise, was the second best league in Europe last season and it looked like the vintage Serie A, who dominated European Cups in the 90s, was back.

British and German fans can breathe a little easier now when they check the 2016 results. The Italian renaissance in 2015 looks more like a fluke than a trend. All Italian clubs are done this year, so every point gained by Bayern, Wolfsburg and BVB will widen the gap even more.

Bundesliga clubs went 2 for 2 in (non group stage) matchups against Italian squads this year. Leverkusen eliminated Lazio in the CL qualifiers and last week Bayern’s “instant classic” comeback against Juventus happened.

Serie A’s big picture future depends heavily on whether the two Milan giants AC & Inter can rebuild their run down clubs. The Rossoneri and Nerazzurri are a mess and have been in disarray for a while now. Serie A is therefore missing two of it’s biggest Coefficient “earners”.

The Brazilian legend Ronaldo (Left, playing for Inter here) and AC Milan's Maldini (Right).
The Brazilian legend Ronaldo (Left, playing for Inter here) and AC Milan’s Maldini (Right).

Sure, Juventus is a great team and got unlucky by drawing Bayern, but Lazio Rome’s 1-4 loss to Sparta Prague on aggregate showed that Serie A’s 2nd tier is in bad shape right now. Serie A therefore has no short term chances to catch the Bundesliga.

The Tifosi could get a shot at the Premier League next season though.

The 2011/12 results, where English teams outgained the Italians by 4 points, will be deleted from the 5 Year Coefficient next year. Therefore the Premiership could be dead even with the Serie A at the beginning of the 2016/17 season (depending on how City and Liverpool do from now on).

Bundesliga vs. Premier League

 

Borussia Dortmund battle Arsenal in a recent Champions League season.
Borussia Dortmund battle Arsenal in a recent Champions League season.

The safety buffer between German and English clubs is at four points right now.
Some media outlets called the Premiership “the NBA of football” and eternal dominance by loaded English clubs seemed unavoidable after that huge  new TV deal was signed in England.

When the 2015/16 European tournaments started and actual games needed to played on the field, Augsburg vs. Liverpool became an eye opener for everybody:

Augsburg played just the 8th international match overall and (like every year) lost outstanding players. Liverpool on the other hand has 8 European trophies in their museum and spent more than Bayern & BVB combined in the 2015 summer transfer window.

Well, a handball penalty for the Reds was all that separated those two clubs on the pitch.

Scrappy Augsburg showed that even 2nd tier Bundesliga teams are competitive no matter how much they “make it rain” in England. Other teams fared well, too.

Gladbach (40 million € spent in preseason) played Manchester City (204m€) closer than expected. Wolfsburg (60m€) beat Manchester United (140m€), won the group and sent the Red Devils to the Europa League. Bayern and Dortmund made Arsenal and Tottenham look like semi pro teams who didn’t belong on the same pitch.

Yup, the “Krauts” outgained the British by 2 coefficient points this year.

It kinda seems like the old German phrase “money doesn’t score goals” is on point for once.

There are no rewards for being ahead of the Premiership in the Coefficient ranking, but it’s still a neat achievement and proof of the solid work Bundesliga clubs put in.

Bundesliga clubs still have real world class talent like Neuer, Reus, Alaba, Aubameyang, Calhanoglu, Höwedes and Draxler on their rosters, while Premier League teams field overrated and overpriced players who often don’t play up to their world class salaries & transfer fees. Consider the following two players:

  • Player A: 7 goals, 10 assists (2015) / 8 goals, 8 assists  (2016)
  • Player B: 11 goals, 9 assists  (2015) / 6 goals, 6 assists (2016)

Can you guess who these players are?

Player A is Roberto Firmino, who cost Liverpool 46 million Euros last summer. While Player B is Max Kruse, who Wolfsburg snatched up for 12 million Euros.

Production and talent wise these two players are on a similar level, yet Firmino was subject of a bidding war between Liverpool and United. That’s what caused the price difference.

“When everybody is rich, nobody is rich” that’s the dilemma UK teams face going forward. The extra amount of money they receive goes straight into the savings accounts of continental Europe clubs like Hoffenheim or AS Monaco.

Bundesliga managers can’t prevent all stars from leaving but they can make British clubs overpay and find a cheaper replacement. The extra money can then be used to strengthen other parts of the squad. Wolfsburg sold KDB for 80 million to City and brought in Draxler, Kruse and Dante for 52 million combined. Leverkusen sold Heung Min Son for 30 million to Tottenham and added Chicharito, Mehmedi and Kampl for 31 million.

So let’s not get too worried about that billion pound TV deal just yet.

Not only are clubs in Germany smart with their money, they also have inexpensive young talent lined up that can replace England bound players.

Granit Xhaka might be transferred to England soon, but Gladbach already has Mahmoud Dahoud on the roster who could become an even better player for example.

Plan A “keep all your stars and add expensive talent” does not work for Bundesliga teams besides Bayern, but Plan B “sell high on overhyped stars, buy low on undervalued talent, develop your own stars” is working like a charm.

That’s why the Bundesliga is in pretty great shape to keep those precious UEFA starting spots for the next decade

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