(This article has been updated at UEFA Coefficients Explained)
This is Serie A’s last season among the top 3 "superleagues" of Europe, at least as per UEFA... few seem to admit what is almost a mathematical certainty... guys, this is inevitable. Let me explain how...
For me, the key question now is how long will Germany be able to hold on to the 3rd spot, once they finally get hold of it. But more on that later... first lets analyse how UEFA Coefficients work...
UEFA Coefficients Explained...
As you may have heard, if Bayern had beaten Inter in the CL final last season, Germany would have already overtaken Italy in UEFA Ranking... that bit is true. This is how the UEFA Coefficient rankings looked like at the end of last season*:
To understand this a bit better, lets first understand how the UEFA Coefficients work. UEFA awards points or coefficients to clubs depending on the results they achieve in UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League games. Two points are awarded for each win by a club, and one for a draw. Bonus points are awarded for qualifying for the Champions League group phase (4 points), reaching the second round of the Champions League (5 points), and reaching the quarter, semi and final of either the Champions League or the Europa League (1 point).
A league’s coefficients for a season are just the average of the coefficients achieved by its clubs that season ie the total number of points awarded in a season to say Italian clubs is divided by the number of Italian teams that participated in that season. UEFA coefficients rankings consider the total of coefficients earned over the last 5 season period, so the 2010 League coefficients (as shown in the above pic) were just the sum of coefficients over the last 5 years (2005-06 to 2009-10).
These UEFA coefficient rankings are important because they determine how many team from that nation qualify for European competitions. For example, the top 3 nations as per the 2010 UEFA Coefficient Rankings (England, Spain & Italy) are allowed 4 teams in the 2011-12 Champions League. Which is why Inter’s win over Bayern in the CL final was so critical for Serie A... if Inter has lost, you can easily see from the above table that Germany (64.21 + 2/6 = 64.54) would have overtaken Italy (64.34 – 2/7 = 64.05) in the rankings. That would have happened also in case of a draw after extra time (win via penalty shootouts are not counted towards results).
Now lets analyze the present. You may notice the big problem from Italy’s point of view if you compare the coefficients of Italy and Germany in 2005-06. There is a gap of 4.9 coefficient points, a gap which goes out of the consideration set for 2011 UEFA rankings. So far, the 2011 rankings look like this:
Germany are already 5.5 points ahead of Italy, which includes the 0.7 points they have gained so far this season!! What this means is that if Italy does not gain more than 5.5 points over Germany in the rest of this season, Serie A will lose one Champions League spot in 2012-13 season. Now that should be possible, surely “mathematical certainty” is too strong a term. Unfortunately for the Italians, its not. UEFA have fine tuned the coefficients over the last 2 years, and the results show why it is almost impossible for Italy to gain 5.5 points over Germany. In 2009-10, the difference between the top league (Germany) and the fifth ranked league (France) was 3.08 points. The season before that, it was 4 points. So even if Germany finish fifth this season (which is unlikely considering they are current first) and Italy finish first (again unlikely, as they are currently fourth**) it is highly unlikely that the difference in points will be as high as 5.5. In my opinion, it will be an achievement for Italy if they finish with more points than Germany this season, let alone gain 5.5 points on them.
Another reason for why this is so "mathematically certain" is that 5.5 points for Italy represent 38.5 points for Italian clubs (5.5 times 7 clubs). Considering the points system, thats a lot to gain relative to the Germans!! Lets assume Germany do as well as they did last season ie 18.08 coefficients. Then Italy needs 22.86 coefficients (18.08 + 5.5 - 0.7) which is a staggering grand sum of 160 points (22.86*7) for the clubs to earn this season!! Which is what I would call a "mathematical impossibility". Last season, Italian clubs earned a grand total 108 points. The highest total any country has earned in the last decade is 143 points (England in 2007-08).
It is a bit odd, when you consider that Italians have won 2 Champions League titles in this same 5 year period, while the Germans have won none. But this inevitable leap in ranking for Germany is a reward for their consistency in Europa League. And perhaps a punishment for Italy as some of their clubs are guilty of not taking UEFA’s secondary competition with the required seriousness. Case in point Napoli earlier this month, when they rested some of their top stars (Hamsik, Lavezzi, etc) in the Europa League game against Steaua Bucharest only to go 3-0 behind. Napoli did so because their main objective is to finish top 4 in Serie A and qualify for the Champions League. Life is not without its sense of irony, because that point they lost in that game might be pivotal in Italy losing their 4th CL spot.
So this season is a battleground between Italy and Germany in Europe. But if its inevitable for Italy to lose the battle, what are they fighting for? Its a question of a quick recovery, like I said, the big question is how long will Germany be able to retain the 3rd place once they achieve it. Lets analyse the future, and as an aid, i present the 2012 Rankings as they stand today:
I would like to point out at this juncture that the above table is missing over a season and half of UEFA Coefficients, so the uncertainty of predictions is high. That out of the way, I have some observations:
1. England look more than comfortable on their top spot for the next few year at the very least.
2. Historically if you look at the top 3 nations, their 4th Champions League team does not earn too many points. This is even more significant if you take England out. So Germany’s elevation may cost them a few points as its more difficult to earn these points in the Champions League as opposed to Europa League. Also, having 7 teams in Europe (instead of the current 6) may turn out to be a curse as far as the UEFA Coefficients are concerned, as the denominator increases... From 2012-13, Germany’s total points will be divided by 7, while Italy’s will be divided by 6. So I predict that Germany will not stay over Italy for more than 3 seasons (at most), after which Italy will regain their place. Another reason for this is because Italy will start gaining points on Germany from 2013 ranking onwards, when 2007-08 points go out of the 5 year consideration set.
3. Spain will be pulled into this battle from next season... as you can see from the above tables, once the 2006-07 points go out of the consideration set (for 2012 ranking), Spain lose a lot of points over Germany and Italy. Outside of their top 2, Spain are losing some strength in depth over the last few seasons, and if this trend continues, they could drop down the rankings. Spain need the likes of Sevilla, Valencia, Atletico, Villareal, etc to make their presence felt in the next few seasons.
So Serie A will lose the battle for coefficients this season. Its inevitable. But they may still win the war over the next 3-4 years.
*UEFA Coefficients have been rounded off to 2 decimal points for simplicity (in reality, 3 decimal points are considered)
**Portugal, who are not represented on the above tables, are also above Italy in UEFA Coefficients earned so far this season