A lost spot – who is to blame?

by Aditya Balaram

AC Milan is the club with the second most Champions League titles and the second most Champions League final appearances. They are also the last club to have managed to win two consecutive Champions Leagues, a feat that hasn’t been achieved for the last twenty one years.

Juventus also boast an impressive record in the Champions League, having been runners-up on the most number of occasions. Juventus are also the most recent team to have featured in three consecutive Champions League finals. Although not as successful as Milan and Juventus, Internazionale have been a force to reckon with over the years. From the days of Helenio Herrera’s catenaccio, to Jose Mourinho’s tactical guile, Inter have shown their grit on a good number of occasions in Europe’s top club competition.

Although not considered as prestigious, the recently rechristened Europa League has also been a favorite hunting ground for the Italians. The country boasts the best record in the tournament, with four clubs going on to win the tournament nine times and six clubs finishing as runners up. Juventus and Internazionale still hold on to the title of being the most successful clubs in the competition, with Parma also having a fairly impressive record.

All this success aside, Italian football has been in a slump over the last few years. No Europa League success since Parma’s triumph in 1999, while Champions League triumphs have been seen at more regular intervals. Although the Champions League may have been lifted by Inter and Milan a couple of times over the last decade, the remaining clubs from Italy have struggled to make any impact. Other than the two Milanese giants, no Italian side has managed to go past the quarter finals of Europe’s most prestigious club competition. The last time a club, other than Milan and Inter, managed to go past the quarter finals was all the way back in the 2002-03 season, when Juventus went on to finish as runners up.

This steady decline is only continuing. This season’s continental competitions saw Napoli, Inter and Udinese crash out in the round of 16. Milan were controversially knocked out by Barcelona in the quarter final of the Champions League. The likes of Roma andPalermo were unable to even qualify for the group stages of the Europa League. These poor European performances have hurt Italy. The Italian association has now fallen behind Germany, which now sees them have only six European spots as opposed to the earlier seven. Is it the failure to win in Europe? Is it the terrible performances of the smaller teams? Who is to blame for this drop in Italy’s position?

UEFA’s coefficient rankings work as follows. Each association is given a coefficient score, i.e. the sum of the points scored over the last five years. For example, for the 2012-13 season, the coefficient scores of seasons 2008-09 to 2012-13 would be taken in to consideration. The points system for each season works as follows:

 

  1. A team is awarded two points for a win and one for a draw in both the Champions League and the Europa League. The points awarded are halved during the qualifying and play-off rounds.

 

  1. Clubs that reach the round of 16, quarter final, semi final and final of the Champions League, or the quarter final, semi final and final of the Europa League are awarded an extra point for each round.

 

  1. An additional four points are awarded for participating in the group stage of the Champions League and four points for qualifying for the round of 16.

 

Each club’s coefficient scores are added up and the total is divided by the number of clubs. This gives us the coefficient score earned by an association in one season.

Over the last three years, one cannot complain too much about the performances of Italy’s top three teams. They have earned an average of 18.89 points per season for their association, while Germany’s top 3 have managed an average of 18.83. The most important advantage that Germany has at the moment is that their total is being divided by six and not seven. This is where Italy’s fourth Champions League side comes into the picture. In the last three years – the qualifying format was different prior to this – Udinese, Sampdoria and Fiorentina have had to go through the play-off round to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League. Only Fiorentina have overcome this hurdle, and this was the only time since the 2005-06 season, that Italy’s coefficients crossed the commendable 15 point mark.

When Italy’s fourth Champions League side is taken into consideration, the gap between Italy and Germany is fairly obvious. The Italian sides qualifying for the Champions League contribute an average of 17.42 points a season, while Germany’s number of 18.83 remains unchanged. Italy’s fourth place side’s struggles in the Champions League may be left unnoticed but their failures in the Europa League are detrimental to Italy’s ranking. Sampdoria were unable to go past the group stage of the Europa League, while Udinese were knocked out in the round of 16. Thus, Sampdoria added a meager 5 points to their association’s tally of 81. Udinese did fair better with a contribution of 12 points, but a lot more was expected of the Zebrette.

Italy’s Europa League performances are what have cost them most dearly. It is most obvious from this season’s performances, with Palermo and Roma both failing to qualify for the group stages. The Sicilian outfit earned just one point, while the capital side earned an embarrassing 0.5 points. Two of the three sides that qualify for the Europa League have consistently failed to perform. Last season Palermo and Napoli faltered, and it was Lazio and Genoa who disappointed the season before. On an average,Italy’s Europa League sides earn 6.61 points a season. In comparison to this,Germany’s Europa League sides manage an impressive average of 13.28 points per season. With this figure being more than double of what the Italian sides manage, it is no surprise that Germany has overhauled Italy to occupy the third spot in UEFA’s country coefficient rankings.

Italy needs to address two issues that are really affecting their ranking. Firstly, the team qualifying for the play-offs in the Champions League has to ensure group stage qualification. This way the Italian association is guaranteed a minimum of four extra points, pushing their coefficient score closer to a total of 13. The next is to improve upon their performances in the Europa League. Elimination prior to the group stage should not be an option. Two of the three Italian sides must be able to qualify for the round of 16. Another interesting statistic is the number of coefficient points that Italian sides are dropping due to unimpressive group stage results. With a victory carrying two points and a draw carrying one, Italian clubs must look to pick up as many points as possible and not settle for mere qualification.

The good news for Italian clubs is that they will have to do extraordinarily badly to lose another Champions League spot. With ranks five and six acting as a cushion,Italy can afford a few more terrible seasons. Also,Russia and Netherlands are pretty far behind in the coefficient rankings. With all this in mind, Italian clubs might take things far too lightly over the next few years and see themselves slip below Portugal and France. One uncertainty that might work in favor of the Italians is that of the fourth German side inability to succeed. Will Germany struggle to cope with an extra Champions League spot? Will the Italians rise to the fore and regain that third position? Or will we see the continual decline of Italian football? These questions will be answered over the next few seasons.

Author Info

Aditya Balaram

A die hard Milanisti. Also a recent follower of German football. Dortmund and Gladbach favour my liking. I love writing about football which is why I'm here. You can follow me on Twitter @adi_balaram

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1 Response

  1. Nick says:

    Excellent article, it would be interesting to see Portugal and France’s chances of overtaking the Serie A in the coefficients.

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