The UEFA coefficients are a statistical method of ranking countries in order to seed them for competitions. The ranking system has been the subject of much debate as many suggest it does not represent an accurate portrait of the game.
How Are Coefficients Calculated?
In 2008 the method of calculating the national ranks was adapted, and now work as follows:
- 10,000 points are awarded to each nation for every international match played. The result of the match does not affect the number of points awarded.
- On top of the 10,000, a further 30,000 points are awarded for a victory, and another 10,000 for a draw. Nations receive 0 additional points for a loss.
- Should a match have been decided by a penalty shootout, both teams receive 10,000 points for a full time draw result, with the shoot out victor being gifted an additional 10,000. So a match won in this fashion means a nation receives only 2/3 of the points they could have won with a win in normal time.
- In qualification tournaments and competition finals (such as the World Cup) teams receive bonus points which increase the further they progress.
- 501 points are awarded for every goal a team scores, 500 are deducted for each goal conceded.
The UEFA coefficient is decided every other year in the month of November, and nations scores are calculated by dividing the number of points accumulated by the amount of matches played.
Special arrangements are made for teams who gain automatic qualification to a tournament because they are the hosts, such as France for Euro 2016. Otherwise they would be unduly penalised for hosting due to the lack of ranked matches they would play without the time frame.
How Accurately Do Coefficients Reflect The Game?
One of the strongest criticisms levelled against the coefficients is that they do not accurately reflect the game, as points are awarded based on solely on results, so numerous victories over weaker sides will give an unfair reflection of a side in the rankings.
Above is the UEFA national coefficient as it currently stands, and clearly shows a great disparity between how the the rankings organise teams, and how the average football commentator / analyst would compare and rank nations.
For starters Spain are higher than Germany, which would be the cause of some debate. While Spain enjoyed a phenomenal period of dominance, their last major trophy was in 2012, while Germany’s was the 2014 World Cup.
Not only that, the manner in which Spain crumbled in Brazil would suggest that they are (or at least, were at the time) far below the standard of the all-conquering Germans.
In 3rd place on the coefficient is England, who are ahead of the likes of France, Italy and Holland. While the England team features some excellent players, the team has not won a major international competition since 1966. Since then France have won two World Cups and a European trophy, Italy have won a World Cup and two European Cups and Holland have one European Cup.
While the coefficient is based on performances over the last five years, have England outperformed the aforementioned nations? Despite a woeful European qualification, Holland excelled in the World Cup, which is more than can be said for England. In fact you have to look back to the Sven Goran Eriksson era to find an England side that looked even halfway menacing on the European stage.
Portugal and Belgium are also seeded higher than the aforementioned trio, which again does not seem to reflect the current game. While Belgium have a strong squad their tournament performances have been lacking, while Portugal are consistent underachievers of late, and the golden team of the mid-2000s is a distant memory.
In the last 5 years there have been two major competitions, a World Cup in Brazil and Euro 2012. If a team has not qualified for either of these competitions, it’s odd that they would rank above a team who has qualified for one or both tournaments. Austria, who qualified for neither, rank higher than both the Ukraine and Sweden, who appeared in both finals.
If you were to feed information on every footballer into a machine to generate player stats for an upcoming video game, it would generate something similar to reality, but with a number of glaring oversights, and this is exactly what the UEFA coefficient feels like.
Perhaps it is because the coefficient is based on five years’ worth of results, and that half a decade is a very long time in football. At club level a 5-year period can see a team go from domestic champions to Europa League qualification hopefuls. Internationally there are fewer chances to compare teams, as major competitions happen bi-annually, but the players within those teams change frequently, and ultimately make the ranking system flawed.