By Tony Attwood
England close to losing Champions League spot screamed the Telegraph
Why the Premier League is on the brink of losing the fourth Champions League spot – the Daily Mirror added helpfully.
England in danger of losing a Champions League place as UEFA co-efficient continues to slide and Italy catch up said the Mail using more words in one headline than it normally manages to pack into an article.
And just in case you missed it, it then ran another story headed
Premier League clubs’ Champions League places are in danger as Italy and Germany take advantage of our European failings
And then just in case we hadn’t realised it was indeed all Arsenal’s fault
More bad news for Arsenal as England’s fourth Champions League spot at risk
Yep, Arsenal’s performance in the Champions League means darkness plunges over the country as we are close (is that a week, a month, a year?) to finding ourselves cut down to three teams in the Champions League.
It was not a story that emerged after the two Manchester clubs lost in Europe, but only after Arsenal lost, and the implication is clear – we know whose fault it is. Although there is a little justice, the papers suggested, since Arsenal always come fourth and therefore will suffer from their own failings.
Except that actually Arsenal came third last year.
But never mind that’s a detail. Let’s just have a look and see how close England is to being cut down from four Champions League slots to three.
Most of the papers echoed the Telegraph’s lead on the shock-horror of it all, and even the Guardian which did a much more measured piece said that “Premier League clubs are now nervously looking over their shoulders.”
Well, probably not because the Guardian did have the grace to add that if there were to be any change it would not occur until 2017/18 and even then it “still remains unlikely”
So what’s going on?
England has had four places since 2001-02 in the Champions League, and the fourth place is not granted as a right, but in relation to the effectiveness of the teams from each country in the Champions League. If England’s teams fail to hit the high spots, as they have done recently, then that fourth place will be awarded elsewhere – and Italy is really the only contender as it is all done mathematically.
So to begin, for this to happen the performance of England’s teams has to drop further and the performance of Italian teams has to rise further – both at the same time – for any change to happen.
And here’s another thing not widely covered in the press and by the increasingly raging fanatics who now seem to populate radio and TV programmes on football. The numbers that tell us which country gets what number of entrants are given slots comes not just from the Champs League but also from the Europa League – and Uefa measure the last five years. When all the numbers are put together the top three countries get four entrants into the Champs, and the next three countries get three.
So will we hear Southampton, West Ham, Liverpool and Tottenham being blamed for not pulling their weight in Europe? Errr…. possibly not.
Having the extra number of teams doesn’t really help get the country’s numbers up, since to work out the position of each country the number of points in the ranking table the country gets, is divided by the number of clubs entered. Then you have your magic number.
But that’s pretty powerful maths, and in a country where being able to do maths is a sign of nerdishness, and the ability to add 3 and 2 together is laughed at by BT Sport, we’re as good as out already. For we could be excluded without actually understand why. But never mind we can always blame Arsenal.
Looking at the matter overall, the failure of most of our clubs in the Europa League is the key issue that has led to England now being third in the table of merit in Europe, when we used to be second. Spain is on top, Germany second, England third, Italy fourth.
And the fact that Spain is on top gives a clue as to how you can make this work in your country’s favour. Have two teams that not only dominate your league, but also historically gather in so much money from TV and sponsorship that they have much of the nation’s football spending power, and they with gather in point after point in Uefa’s calculation system. Throw in Atletico Madrid who have been gatecrashing the party of late and there are even more points to be gained.
Of course it is not just having the power positioned within two or three clubs that helps, nor the fact that some clubs (not Chelsea I think, but some) in England don’t really take the Europa very seriously. But it is the difference in the way that football is played in England that doesn’t help too much.
Increasingly refs have been willing to let things go in England which are penalised in Europe – so it is harder to adjust to European ways. And of course there are the smaller differences like the abject refusal of the Premier League to allow a multiple ball system so that when a ball goes out, a new one is instantly thrown on. That might seem tiny, but given the propensity of goalkeepers in over half the teams in the Premier League to waste time at goal kicks you can see that these little details count against English comes when it comes to adjusting.
Once we are in Europe the calculation is simple (although still too much for BT Sport and most newspaper journalists): two points for a win and one point for a draw in the main rounds of each competition, one point and half a point in the qualifying and play off rounds. There is an extra point per round for reaching the last 16 and thereafter. Plus a bonus of four points for getting to the group stage of the Champions League (not awarded in the Europa) and again just for the Champs League another four for getting to the last 16.
So you can see that each year Arsenal, without being stellar, has done its stuff, usually contributing 16 or so points towards the cause. In fact we’ve done more than any other club in England to keep the co-efficient up since 2001/2.
And then, as I said, the numbers are divided by the number of clubs entered. So West Ham’s contribution this year will have added to the number of clubs (so we divided by more) but not to the number of points – a really negative contribution. Southampton likewise.
Now if we look at the current standing as it affects England we have
- England 65.284
- Italy 61.105
- Portugal 45.082
- France 44.916
So clearly we are being chased by Italy, but no one else is close. Italy however no longer have the dominance of Juventus, Inter and AC Milan, for although the former won the league last season they are currently doing a Chelsea and sit 16th out of 20 in the league. Inter are top Milan are 12th.
Of course there are some who will say Zagreb or Olympiakos are going to come ahead of Arsenal in the group stages this year – because they like knocking Arsenal, but it still seems unlikely to me, and yet that is the sort of thing that must happen in two or three of the groups for the “losing the fourth place” scenario to begin to be a serious possibility.
What Zagreb did was play their very best in, within a very long unbeaten run, and they beat us. Their challenges at home are rarer and smaller than the ones Arsenal face in every match, with the wholesale kicking of players that is allowed in the Premier League and a more balanced league.
But let us remember that it is all very well having players a-plenty on the bench but if they don’t get games when we really do need them we are going to be in trouble if they come in totally cold.
18 September 1999: Thierry Henry came on as a sub scored first goal for Arsenal to beat Southampton 1-0. He received the ball from Adams, with his back to goal, 20 yards out, turned and shot. Henry said, “My goal today was very important for me. I have missed at least 14 or 15 chances for Arsenal and my confidence was low.” It was Arsenal’s last appearance at the Dell
18 September 2013: Arsenal beat Marseille 2-1 to make it 10 away wins in a row in all competitions – a club record. Ramsey and Walcott scored in the Champions League campaign in which 3 teams ended up with 12 points.