A lot of people, especially in England and the United States, tend to look down on Europa. Being doomed to play on Thursday nights is the epitome of shame and other unpleasant emotions.
But here’s the thing: Europa does matter. I’m not saying that people have to like it, but they need to stop dismissing it. Why?
Two words: UEFA coefficient.
So here’s the thing about the UEFA coefficient: it takes both the CL and Europa into account. In fact, it values Europa pretty highly. Here’s the breakdown for how a league’s coefficient is calculated each year:
1. 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw. Points are halved in qualifying and play-off rounds.
2. 1 extra point per round for reaching the R16, QFs, SFs, and/or F of the UCL, or the QFs, SFs, and/or F of Europa.
3. 4 points for reaching the UCL group stage, and another 4 points for reaching the UCL KO stage.
That score is then divided by the total number of clubs from that country that participated in Europe that season.
*Note: This is not how club coefficients are calculated. This only pertains to the league.
Well, reaching the KOs of the UCL gives your league a nice little bonus, doesn’t it? The UCL clearly has more weight.
But not much more. Wins and draws are worth the same number of points, and your teams in Europa don’t count for less than your teams in the UCL when you’re dividing the accumulated points at the end. And, surprise, surprise – how well a country does in Europa can make a difference.
I’ve calculated the coefficients for the UCL and Europa for the top 9 leagues in Europe, and included those numbers along with the official total in the table below. They won’t add up or even average out, because they’re not really supposed to: I calculated each individually exactly as the total is calculated, as though they were entirely different competitions. Any team that participated in both had their relevant points divided between the two.
Blue = 4 spots in the UCL, green = 3 spots, and purple = 2 spots.
And here’s another table, which outlines how many points each league got from the two competitions.
Two things of note, before we start talking about the UCL/Europa effect:
1) Spain, England, and Germany are unlikely to be overtaken for a long time. Not only are their totals already significantly higher than everyone else’s, but the worst season in the last five years for all three (2008-2009) will be knocked out next season. The order will probably change around – Germany may well overtake England this year (yes, really) – but if they continue to perform, it will be years before someone else can get that fourth CL spot.
2) And, it will take a substantial push for Ukraine or the Netherlands to get that third CL spot from Italy, France, or Portugal, especially since Portugal, like the top three, is about to shed a very poor season. And, of course, Portugal have that ace in their pocket: Europa.
Onto the actual UCL/Europa effect.
There are a few things that are quite clear. Here are some takeaways:
Germany vs. Italy
The Bundesliga has officially overtaken Serie A in UEFA’s coefficients. That’s clear. Looking at the official coefficients, it’s also clear that the Bundesliga has a lot of ground on Italy at this point.
Most of it is from Europa.
Treating the UCL as its own competition still has Germany ahead of Italy, but by much slimmer margins, and Italy has received (marginally) more points from the UCL to their coefficient than Germany has. Given that Italy is about 12 points behind Germany, you’d think they’d be closer.
And they would – except that Germany are much, much better at Europa. They’re consistent, they don’t have a lot of dead weight in any single year, and while they haven’t made the final recently, they routinely do well. It’s better for your country’s coefficient to have two teams make the QFs than to have one make the final and the others to go out in the group stage, and that’s what Germany have tended to do.
England’s (Relative) Slump
The English undervalue Europa in general, though it’s worth acknowledging that some English teams have been quite successful in it lately, hence England’s avoiding the depths of failure that Italy and France have managed despite respectable UCL records.
However, England have already been toppled from being the best-ranked team by UEFA by Spain due to Spain’s success in Europa, and they may be ousted from number 2 soon. It shouldn’t affect the number of English teams in the UCL, but it will certainly hurt their bragging rights.
I’m going to go out on a limb. I’m going to say that at this point next season, England will have been bumped down to third by Germany.
Right now, less than five points separate them. Normally, English teams would really have to screw up to lose such a strong lead, but the 2008-2009 season – which, as previously mentioned, will be replaced next year – was poorer for Germany than it was for England. Getting rid of the lead weight will give Germany a chance to surge ahead, leaving them to need just another 2.5 to overtake them.
England will almost certainly not have four teams in the KOs of the UCL this year. They may only have two: City will obviously need a miracle to get through, and Chelsea look like they’re in some danger of not qualifying, too. If either get knocked down to Europa, do you see them taking it seriously with the EPL title up for grabs?
Judging by recent history, not a chance. And it’s not at all clear that City will even make Europa.
Now, I’m not saying it will definitely happen… but if you look at the Bundesliga and you look at the EPL this season, who looks more convincing in Europe?
Ironically, if England hang on this year, it could be down to Europa, which Newcastle, Liverpool, and Tottenham all seem to be taking seriously.
Europa Can Carry Leagues
We’ve covered Germany, and it’s clear that Europa has helped to push them into their “definitive top three” position. Now it’s time to talk about the league that’s taken the most points from Europa in the last four years.
Yeah, really. I was a little surprised, too, because I never think about the Netherlands and Europa. Then I considered it and began to remember for their teams keep moving on in Europa, year after year after year… consistency, right? It’s pretty impressive.
Without Europa, they would be circling the drain. With Europa, they could theoretically make the push for a third UCL spot.
Okay. Let’s move on to Portugal. They’ve only done marginally better than Russia in the UCL lately, at least in terms of the points they’ve managed to get from it. However, in Europa terms, they are flying. Europa has allowed them to get that coveted third spot in the UCL. Europa has been good to Portugal.
Which anyone who pays attention probably knew. The Iberian dominance over the last couple seasons has been a bit absurd. No wonder Germany and the Netherlands can’t make the finals. There’s a strict Iberian-only policy.
The Ukraine benefits pretty nicely from Europa, too.
Performance in Europa has given several leagues extra UCL spots. Conversely, poor performance in Europa has cost Italy big time.
And they say Europa doesn’t matter.
It’s worth acknowledging that leagues ranked 7-9 do have more teams in Europa to begin with (4), and are also more likely to get knocked down to Europa from the UCL. That’s what often happens to Dutch teams, and part of why they have so many points. Therefore, those leagues do generally have more opportunity to win points.
Leagues with fewer UCL spots, on the other hand, are going to have fewer UCL points, because they have fewer teams to get them. This is part of why Germany have fewer UCL points – they only just got their fourth team, which Italy had instead until recently. The coefficients in the top table help to address this disparity.
It’s also worth acknowledging that leagues like the Dutch Eredivisie don’t have much to play for in the UCL, because they’re good-but-not-quite-good-enough (not that you’d know it from the beating Ajax gave City last UCL round), where they’re some of the top teams in Europa.
That does not, however, hold true for Germany in any way, shape, or form. It doesn’t hold true for Spain, either, who are just barely out of the top three by points earned and are on top using the coefficients.
Europa is the ace in the pocket that only half the top leagues care about. It’s helped Spain to topple England, and could help Germany to do the same thing. It’s gotten Portugal an extra UCL spot, and it’s kept the Netherlands and Ukraine in a respectable place.
Europa matters. It makes a difference to the league’s placement, which is vital to participation in Europe, which leads to sponsors. Ignore Europa, the leagues start to slip away from the top.