Thursday, June 02, 2016

Scottish Football: Thinking About Club Coefficients

As we wait for the June 30th kickoff of Europa League football (or the June 20th draw date), I thought of a new factor that I had overlooked in trying to figure out how Scottish clubs can be successful there.

I've focused on the Scottish UEFA coefficient, which determines where the clubs enter the Europa League (or in Celtic's case, the Champions League). But the individual clubs also have UEFA coefficients. Part of that is determined by the national coefficient, but part is determined by the club's performance in Europe over the past 5 years.

I didn't understand how that mattered until I saw an article about potential first-round and second-round opponents. Basically, at each round, the teams with the better coefficients are "seeded," and the worse ones are "unseeded," with each seeded team facing an unseeded one. So it's important to have a good club coefficient to make sure you have an easier opponent.

Anyway, this re-enforces two principles I had already notice about the way the ranking works.

1. The Rich Get Richer. If you do well, you have a good coefficient, so you have an easier opponent, so you do well, so you have a good coefficient... This would seem fatalistic -- the rules are rigged against you, but there is a sub-principle which gives some hope.

1a. A Little Luck Goes a Long Way. If a team beats the odds...say they're unseeded, but draw one of the weaker seeded teams and pull off a minor upset, well, then, they're in better shape for the next five years. Maybe that's enough to get them seeded in the first-round, they have a little more luck, get seeded in the second round...

2. It Is Better to Have a League Where the Same Teams Dominate. Before, I figured that was true because the richer teams likely have the resources to compete in Europe, as well as the experience from being there most years. But an underdog not only has to deal with a lower budget and less experience, they are also more likely to be unseeded.

So how does that affect the current crop of Scottish teams?
  1. Celtic 40.460
  2. Motherwell 6.460
  3. Hearts 6.460
  4. Saint Johnstone 6.210
  5. Aberdeen 5.460
  6. Dundee United 4.960
  7. Rangers 4.960
  8. ICT 3.960
  9. Hibs 3.960
Celtic appears to be doing fine with the seeding in the Champions League. The threshold this year for first-round seeding is about 3.6 and for the second-round around 5.76.  So this year Scottish teams are guaranteed to be seeded in the first round, but only Hearts will be if they make it to the second round. While this might be a reason to root for Motherwell or Saint Johnstone to have qualified, it's probably better for Aberdeen and Hibs to boost their performance for future seasons.

How important is consistency? It looks like 3.460 is what a Scottish club with no European experience would get just from the country coefficient. So one year's experience is generally enough to get at least a seeded draw in the first round.  On the other hand, if the second-best club in Scotland had been the same every year for the past five years, that club would have a 9.460 coefficient. That's probably not quite enough to be seeded in the third round, but it's close.
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