UEFA coefficients. Depending on where you’re from, it’s either something you barely know anything about, or something you hear about every other week. And if you’re from England, Spain, Germany or Italy, for the past decade you’ve had every reason not to care.
However, the times they are a-changin’. UEFA has announced its new Champions League format, which we’ll see in action for the first time next season. In this new iteration, the number of participating teams will increase from 32 to 36, together with a completely new group stage format. So where do these four additional teams come from? This is where things become interesting.
One additional spot is given to the association in fifth place in the country coefficient rankings. This year, this is looking to be a tight battle between the number five nation of the past seven years, France, and new challengers, the Netherlands.
Another additional spot is given to the ‘champions path’ qualifiers, where winners of domestic leagues without a direct group stage ticket battle it out every year.
And finally, two additional spots are given to the associations with the best collective European performance in the previous season. That is, the current season if we’re talking about next year’s Champions League. Last term, for example, the two best associations were England and Spain. If that were to repeat this year, the fifth placed team in both the Premier League and La Liga will get a direct Champions League ticket next season.
With this change, the UEFA coefficients have become relevant for every country in Europe — including the top four nations England, Spain, Germany, Italy. So, let’s refresh your memory: what are UEFA coefficients?
What Are UEFA Coefficients?
Every year teams from Europe play in the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League. Since quality differs wildly even within these competitions, UEFA long ago decided that some associations get more tickets than others. In order to determine this, they invented the UEFA coefficients.
Essentially, if a team from your association gets results in Europe, you get points: two points for a win, one for a draw. All points together make up a nation’s coefficient. To keep things fair, this total is divided by the number of participating clubs from your nation. That way, countries that get fewer tickets to Europe can still compete with nations that get more. At the end of each European season, all nations are sorted by their total coefficient over the last five years — countries at the top get the most/best tickets, nations at the bottom will only get a couple and will need to play a lot of qualifiers.
For fans from most countries, this is of utmost importance; it can be the difference between playing in the Champions League via a direct ticket or getting knocked out in qualifiers — and potentially European football altogether — in June or July.
This year again has seen a lot of dramatic movement across the rankings:
- France is battling with the Netherlands for fifth place, which is good for three direct tickets to the UCL group stage (compared to two for sixth).
- Turkey is up to ninth place, rising from 20th only two years ago.
Further down we can also see much going on:
- Czechia is in 15th but still has a good shot at making the top 10, which would get them a direct UCL ticket.
- On the flip-side, Portugal was overtaken by the Netherlands last year and now has Belgium and Turkey breathing down their neck.
- Scotland is at serious risk of dropping outside the top 10 and losing their direct UCL ticket.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are still eight nations currently outside the top 10 with a shot of getting into that select group, and therefore getting a direct Champions League qualification spot.
Historically, however, it’s not been that exciting at the top. The top four nations get the same allocation, and since they’ve been the same quartet for the past 15 years, fans from England, Italy, Spain and Germany have had little reason to pay attention to their nation’s coefficient. But as mentioned before, that’s now changed. In the new UCL format, an additional ticket will be given to each of the two nations with the highest coefficient from the current year only.
That means that there’s now a very good reason for fans from these countries to start paying attention. They are top of the ranking for a reason, and therefore they are generally most likely to end in the top two of the yearly ranking as well. Other nations can compete here, but only sporadically. The Netherlands made the top two in 2021-22, and Portugal were top in 2010-11. This year, there seems to be only one real challenger from outside the top four, and that’s Turkey.
Turkish Club Football on the Rise
Turkish clubs have had great results in qualifying this season. Across 12 ties involving four clubs in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa Conference League, just one saw a Turkish side eliminated: Adana Demirspor in the UECL play-offs against Belgian club KRC Genk. Galatasaray made it through three rounds of qualifying to make the UCL group stage (where they have already beaten Premier League giants Manchester United at Old Trafford), while Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş also progressed through three qualifiers to reach the group stage of the Europa Conference League.
Their chances are boosted further by the fact they were only given tickets for four clubs, meaning they are just sending the best they have, leading to a potentially good average score. One additional element that helps is that two of their three remaining teams are playing in the Europa Conference League, where they are more likely to pick up wins and progress further into the tournament.
One thing you might notice in the above plot is that we give Spain a much smaller chance to reach the top two this year than the other traditional top four nations. The main reason is that Osasuna, who finished seventh in La Liga in 2022-23, were knocked out by Club Brugge in the UECL qualifiers. This drags the average of Spain down significantly, making this year an uphill battle right from the start.
The fact having more teams in Europe is not always a good thing can be shown by looking at a recent situation in the Dutch Eredivisie. In 2015-16, relegated side Go Ahead Eagles got a European ticket due to the Netherlands’ top spot in UEFA’s Fair Play ranking. Go Ahead Eagles went on to get knocked out in the first round of the Europa League qualifiers, dragging down the average Dutch score for that year by over one point. Since the coefficient ranking is made based on a period of five years, this haunted the Dutch league for that whole period, partly contributing to them missing out on direct Champions League qualification in 2019-20, four years later. In order to have a good coefficient, it’s really quality over quantity.