Thursday, July 16, 2015

More trying to fix Scotland's UEFA coefficient

Earlier this week, I pondered how Scotland could get back to respectability (15th-18th place) in the rankings of European soccer leagues. The scenario I gave the most credence to for the four Scottish teams to behave as Celtic, one "half-Celtic" and two "non-Celtics".

Before addressing those scenarios more concretely, let me dismiss two other scenarios. One is that Celtic could just become a super-Celtic. Celtic's best run in recent years was in 2012 when they reached the round of 16 in the Champions League. That run netted them 19 points. A "non-Celtic" has typically produced 1 (let's round down from 1.077), so under the current system, a super-Celtic and three non-Celtics would get 22 points, which gives five-year coefficient of 27.5, which is in the range I identified. (Actually, Celtic would have to win one more round to make it to the sixteen based on current rankings, but we can ignore that for now.) Although Celtic has been very successful, expecting it to end up in the top 16 clubs in Europe every year to make up for the deficiencies of other Scottish clubs is just too much.

Another possibility that I identified would be Celtic, and three "mini-Celtics". Let's round Celtic's usual contribution to 12 (up from 11.875). Then if each other team contributes 3 points, we're at 21 points for the year, a five-year coefficient of 26.25, again in the 25-30 range. But since the birth of the Europa League, only two teams have managed 3 points. The 2010 Motherwell squad got 3.5, as did last year's Aberdeen side. Motherwell barely avoided relegation last year, so they are not in European play this year. Aberdeen...well, we'll get to them later. The point is that expecting to have a stable of three Scottish clubs that can each win two rounds of qualifying (as those two did) is a bit far-fetched.

So we return to my scenario of Celtic, half-Celtic and two non-Celtics -- in other words, Celtic contributes 12 points, another club puts up 6, and two sides throw in 1 each. So far this year, St. Johnstone played its part, getting a point before exiting in the first round. Inverness CT may disappoint even low expectations. They dropped the first half of their tie with Astra Giurgiu 1-0 today, so they will need an away win (against a team they couldn't score on at home) to get a point. Celtic has 1 point, and seems likely to advance, so we hope they do their part. That leaves us with...Aberdeen.

Aberdeen now has 2 points after demolishing HNK Rijeka 3-0 in Croatia today. Unfortunately for fans of Scotland's UEFA coefficient (maybe that's just me), that will leave them with the temptation to "park the bus" next week and get a draw or a 1- or 2-goal loss, which will allow them to advance, but not get them another point towards this year's total. Nevertheless, let's take the long view. What does a team (in particular, one who enters in the first or second rounds of Europa League qualifying) need to do in order to get 6 points?

I only had the energy to look at last year's games. But the fact is, no team that missed the group stage got 6 points. The closest (Spartak Trnava) got 5.5. The average of those who entered in the first round and exited in the playoffs was 4.8, and second-round entrants who lost in the playoffs averaged 3.1.

So making it to the group stage is crucial. Four teams entered in the second round and made it to the group stage, averaging 9.4 points. Unhappily for Aberdeen, no team entering in the first round made it that far, and no club entering before the third round made it out of the group stage.

But, that tells me that if Aberdeen can turn itself into a side that makes the group stage half the time, and falls just short the other half, it would be the team that Scotland needs. Some other team could, of course, fill the void (as I said on Monday, keep an eye on Hearts), but that appears to be the basic formula.

I don't know why it interests me to work that out, but it does. I guess because there's math involved, but the coverage of it doesn't explain how "doing better in Europe" would translate into "getting a better ranking."
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