15 March 2008

The post you hoped I'd never bore you with

This post is in a way inspired by Alastair's utterly correct post on the UK media's differing methods of reporting on the Champions' League draw (i.e. blanket coverage) - in which four English Premiership clubs had an interest - and the UEFA Cup draw (i.e. naff all) - in which Rangers were involved, and were the only club from the British Isles to be involved, following the elimination of the three English clubs at the Last 16 stage. It's fair to say that the discrepancy is exasperating to any Scottish football fan.

However, despite the absence of any Scottish club - Celtic having been knocked out by Barcelona - from the Champions' League draw, this still matters to supporters of Scottish clubs. Let me explain why.

Those who know me know that I am a football fan - I follow Wigan Athletic (a local thing) and Rangers (a family thing) in roughly equal measure and would be completely torn if by some miracle the Latics ever reached Europe and played Rangers (it would have to be in the UEFA Cup: Wigan reaching it via the Intertoto Cup - we ain't ever going to get in by the Fair Play system - and by sheer luck reaching the Last 32; and Rangers coming third in their Champions' League group, so entering the Last 32 of the UEFA Cup).

Anyway, as you will all know, I'm a total geek, so I jumped for joy when I discovered a site detailing practically the entire UEFA club seeding system by Bert Kassies, a Dutch fan who is clearly to the UEFA Club Co-efficient what ASwaS is to Parliamentary boundaries and voting systems. Bert has got hold of the Access List for next season's competitions, which detail how many clubs countries can enter in the two tournaments, and at what stage those clubs play their first games.

A total of sixteen teams - it always has to be sixteen - automatically qualify for the Champions' League Group Stage:

The title-holders naturally are given the best chance to defend their title.

The three highest-ranked associations - the ranking is determined by their clubs' performances in UEFA competitions over the last five years - get two clubs each in the Group Stages, and two in the Third Qualifying Round - that's Spain, England and Italy. This gives us seven teams in the Groups.

The next three - France, Germany and Portugal - also get two each in the Group Stages, but only one in the Third Qualifying Round. This puts a sub-total of thirteen teams in the Groups.

The next three - Romania, Netherlands and Russia - get only one each in the Groups and Third Qualifying Round. That makes sixteen teams - the magic number.

Scotland are tenth in the rankings, and so get one team - the SPL Winners - in the Third Qualifying Round and one - the Runners-up - in the Second Qualifying Round.

Except...

Given that there are always sixteen automatic qualifiers for the Group Stages, what happens when someone who wins the title could equally have reached the Groups by finishing in the right place in their respective league, and there are only fifteen teams in sixteen places?

You guessed it: the tenth-ranked association gets that all-important sixteenth place, which next season would go to the SPL Champions!

So Scottish football fans need whoever wins the Champions' League this season to be entitled to their place on domestic merit as well.

Therefore:

As Arsenal have a better chance of finishing second in the Premiership than Liverpool, we want the Gunners to advance to the Semis. We want Chelsea - who are currently third but could enter the top two - to beat Fenerbahce - who would have to play a qualifier if they won the Turkish League. As far as Arsenal v Chelsea is concerned, we want whoever wins that to finish in the Top 2 in the Premiership.

It looks like we want Barcelona - who are in second place in La Liga and four points ahead of third-placed Villarreal - to beat Schalke 04 - who are fifth in the Bundesliga and four points behind second-placed Hamburg. Given that AS Roma are second in Serie A, and ten points ahead of third-placed Juventus, they're probably a better team to cheer on than Man United, who are top of the Premiership but only three points ahead of Chelsea. Having said that, I don't see Man U dropping out of the Top 2, so whoever wins is fine, and as three out of the four teams - Schalke are the bad apple - look good for an automatic place in the Group Stage - we want the winner of this eventual Semi to beat the winner of the other one - where one team can't qualify directly for the Groups anyway, one can officially, but realistically won't and the current form of the other two is so shaky that although one of them has to make the Top 2 there's no guarantee that either of them will win their Semi Final (or even the Quarter Final) AND come 1st or 2nd in the Premiership.

I accept fully that this is about as clear as mud, so I will summarise: based on current league positions, it is in the interest of Scottish football fans that Man U, Barcelona or AS Roma win the Champions' League.

And I never thought I'd find myself supporting United in any competition - except at the end of last season when if they'd beaten West Ham, the bastard cheating Hammers would have gone down instead of Sheffield United. But needs must.

6 comments:

Jeff said...

Post of the year my good man!


I wasn't really arsed about who to support in the Champions League but you've given me the perfect incentive to re-engage...

'Mon the Arsenal!

David Farrer said...

Phew!

Now that's sorted can you fix the world's monetary crisis? Should be a doddle...

Will said...

Why, thank you Jeff, though I have to admit that if I'd known you had Gooner tendencies I'd have spent the last seven days winding you up about Wigan's courageous performance against Arsene Wenger's overpaid wusses. :D

And, David, believe me, I am not well-placed to solve economic issues. For problems like this, my stock answer is "everyone should be more like me". The problem is that I'm a tight-fisted git, so no one would spend anything and the world's industries would wither and die within three months...

Scottish Toryboy said...

As a Celtic man I want Barca to win, not only does that give us the "we were beaten by the eventual winners" excuse but also we will qualify straight into the group stages due to winning the league. Good times!

STB

Will said...

Barca winning would be good - then we can say we got beaten by the winners, and kept a clean sheet against them at Ibrox...

However, I must point out that we'd be the ones going into the the Group Stage, though I'm sure you'll get a chance to take revenge on Artmedia Bratislava! ;)

Mr Eugenides said...

Bert Kassies is a God.

His website is compulsive reading for those of us whose thoughts on the beach this summer will be of qualifying draws, co-efficients and the intricacies of Pot 2 and Pot 3 - though in saying that, of course, our team will be qualifying for the CL group stages automatically next year, Will... ;-)