The European season is over.
Well, not technically. There are still some playoffs to decide in Belgium, the Bulgarian regional leagues are finishing with a flourish, and of course the Slovak Third Division is still going strong. But all the "big" leagues - I know, I know, so elitist - are done and dusted. The winners have won; the losers have lost. European qualification is set. It's that last bit we care about.
For once all the European qualifiers are set, the UEFA coefficients machine lumbers up its difference engine. As the wooden cogs turn slowly, and steam and soot fills the air, magical numbers start materializing from the haze. 157.605. 136.605. 113.592. So exact! So precise! So precious! Life and death hangs in the balance.
A hapless, minimum-wage scientist asks, "Why is it using Imperial decimal points?" He's never heard from again. Well fed, the machine must be kept.
The formula behind these numbers is a UEFA family secret, lovingly treasured by generations of bean-counters and overcomplicaters, passed down from their fathers to their children and to their children's children. Only three people know the whole formula at any given time.
Actually, it's just hidden somewhere in this massive document, which I have neither the time nor the desire to read through. Fortunately, there's a man named Bert Kassies - Omar's a coming, yo! - who fights the good fight in the universal struggle versus the tyranny of UEFA maths.
Kassies runs a wonderful website that takes the guesswork out of the coefficients. He applies all the convoluted rules and all the national rankings and multipliers, puts them in a high-powered parallel processing machine and lets us glimpse our glorious future well before UEFA actually updates and publishes their own numbers.
Thanks to Bert, we can learn all sorts of fun and super-enlightening things from the latest UEFA Team Rankings. For example, did you know...
- ...that Chelsea are now the third best team in Europe? Or is it Europa, with an 'a'? This is so confusing! Champions of Europeaeaeaeaeae...who knows what we are...
- ...that Chelsea are now THE highest ranked team in England, as far as Platini and Co are concerned? Ha-ha! Time to adjust the formula, Michel! Also, in yo' face, United!
- ...that, as a reward for Champions League group stage failure, Chelsea received the third most points in UEFA's coefficients system this year? This system rules!
- ...that, as a reward for Champions League final success, Chelsea received the fourth most points in UEFA's coefficients system that year? This system rules!
- ...that, as a reward for accomplishing absolutely nothing tangible, Real Madrid and Arsenal sit above teams who actually have won something in the last five years? Or in Arsenal's case, won something ever.
- ...that, as a reward for rising above their station, teams like Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid are still stuck well down the order thanks to the choice of using a rather arbitrary five-year moving window to decide things? Hmmm...now where else have I seen this sort of a "fair play" system that rewards the biggest and richest teams? I think it had something to do with finances?
- ...that Manchester City are considered worse than Liverpool?
- ...that Villareal are considered better than Borussia Dortmund?
- ...that Fulham are 50th?
This system rules! Sure, you want to counteract some of the inherent randomness of cup competitions. Winners of playoffs aren't necessarily the "best" teams. But why five years? Or keep the five years, but how about putting more weight on the recent performances? And sure, you want to protect the "big" teams in case of an off year or a surprise elimination. But then why reward almost equally across the Champions and the Europa League - isn't one of those supposed to be "better" than the other?
In addition to marveling at the teams' rankings, we can take a preliminary look at next year's Champions League group stages as well.
Here's the hilarious part: assuming all the top ranked teams - but especially Lyon and Zenit St. Petersburg (3rd round) and Arsenal, AC Milan, and Schalke (4th round) - make it through the qualifiers, all three of Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, and Manchester City would end up in Pot 3 for the draw!
Try this group on for size: Chelsea, Shakthar (or PSG), BVB, Napoli. Fun for days!