UEFA board at game

What Is the UEFA Coefficient & Why Does It Matter?

It might sound strange, but when a club qualifies for one of Europe’s premier competitions, such as the Champions League or Europa League, they’re not only playing for themselves but also for their country. Ever since UEFA, football’s governing body in Europe, created their coefficient rankings system, performances on the continental stage have had wider ramifications for the number of places a country is handed for the same competitions the following season. At the sharp end, that can make the difference between the Premier League getting four places in the Champions League or five.

How Is the UEFA Coefficient Calculated?

UEFA logoUEFA have come up with a points-based system that rewards clubs – and ultimately their countries – that perform the best in their sanctioned competitions. The point allocations change across each of the continental tournaments that are available. For example, teams that play in the Champions League are awarded points as follows:

  • Group stage participation – 4 points
  • Wins in the group stage onwards – 2 points
  • Draws in the group stage onwards – 1 point
  • Qualifying for the round of 16 – 4 points
  • Bonus for each additional round played – 1 point

There are fewer points available for the Europa League and Conference League, although the general structure remains the same – each win and draw is played, while there’s bonuses for progressing further into each competition.

At the end of the season, all the points earned by every club competing in a UEFA competition are added up, with each individual country – courtesy of their clubs – earning an overall number. This is the single-year coefficient ranking, with UEFA generally preferring a five-year cycle of their calculations.

UEFA’s number-crunchers then take each country’s points total and divide it by the number of clubs that competed in European competition to create a coefficient. So, if the Premier League’s clubs earned 70 points and seven of them contested a UEFA tournament, the coefficient would be ten.

Of course, the actual calculation is more complex than that, but to offer a flavour in 2023/24 Italy led the rankings – their coefficient for the season was 19.42, securing them an additional place in the Champions League for the following season.

The other places in the expanded Champions League are ringfenced for clubs that qualify in a couple of different ways. The first is via the ‘champion’s path’, with the number of guaranteed spots for domestic league winners extended from four to five. The country that finishes fifth in the coefficient system may also get an additional Champions League place, depending upon the performances of their teams and those in rival nations.

Why Is This Important?

UEFA rug
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For the 2024/25 season, the Champions League will be expanding from 32 to 36 clubs. There’s extra places up for grabs in what is Europe’s most prestigious competition, with a couple of those berths dished out based upon the coefficient ranking as described above.

To quote UEFA themselves, those leagues with the ‘best collective performance by their clubs in the previous season’ will be allocated an additional Champions League place, specifically for ‘the club ranked next-best in their domestic league behind those clubs that have already qualified directly for the league phase.’

It would mean, in theory, that the side finishing in fifth place in the Premier League would qualify for the following season’s Champions League – although that would be determined by how well EPL clubs fared in the current campaign on the continent.

During the 2023/24 season, which was the first to use this new system of allocating additional Champions League places, the deep runs into the business end of UEFA competitions from German clubs Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen ensured that the Bundesliga was granted an additional UCL place for 2024/25.

The Premier League, meanwhile, for all its representatives in continental competition, did not fare so well in the rankings. The likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and West Ham all lost at the quarter-final stage of their respective competitions, with Aston Villa being the only English side to progress on to the semi finals of the Conference League. The Europa League and Conference League are also being expanded, with their additional spots earned using the same coefficient calculations.

Can Six Premier League Teams Qualify for the Champions League?

It’s certainly not impossible that in seasons to come, the team finishing in sixth place in the Premier League will go on to clinch a place in the following campaign’s Champions League. However, this would need a very specific turn of events to unfold. First, English clubs would need to perform well collectively in the continental competitions – boosting the coefficient ranking to the point that the Premier League would be guaranteed a fifth Champions League berth.

Then the plot would thicken if an English club were to win the Champions League that season: that would automatically gift another UCL place to the Premier League, which in this scenario would be passed to the team that finished sixth in the table. So it’s an unlikely, but far from impossible, series of events that would need to unfold in order for six Premier League clubs to make it into the Champions League.

What Is the New Champions League Format?

When the European Super League was first mooted back in 2021, the clubs involved made their desires quite clear – they wanted to play more money-spinning games against elite opposition. UEFA’s move to counter that has been to increase the Champions League from 32 teams to 36, as well as doing away with the traditional group stage format.

All 36 will play in a single league, each appearing in a minimum of eight games – meaning more revenue for them, but more of a headache for head coaches trying to manage the game-time of their players. The best performing clubs in this league phase will then progress to a more traditional knockout bracket, with a play-in style tournament followed by the Round of 16, quarter-finals, semis and then the final.