Last Tuesday night saw the beginning of what could be a
humbling fortnight for English Premier League clubs.
Both Arsenal and Manchester City have bowed out of the
UEFA Champions League this season and two others, Chelsea
and Manchester United are on the brink of elimination from
the biggest club football competition in the world. Only
Chelsea is favourites to progress from the round of 16.
As always happens when teams from one country
underperform simultaneously, the debate has begun over
whether English clubs are falling behind in quality compared to
the rest of Europe’s big hitters. Is there a risk of a more
The Champions League is the most lucrative club competition
in the world. In 2012-13, a total of €904.6 million of revenue,
comprising prize money and TV fees, was distributed by UEFA
across the 32 sides who reached the group stage. Those who
stay in get richer and those who fall out can struggle to get
back in – just ask Liverpool how much effort it takes.
The concern potentially goes beyond just the four clubs
involved, however. Entry to the tournament is based on
UEFA’s coefficient ranking for all member countries. England
has long been in the top three on the continent, thereby
granted four places for Premier League qualifiers each season,
but these rankings are based on performances – if all four
English clubs were to go out now, would the country be at
risk of dropping back down to three qualifiers?
The good news for Premier League clubs is that such an
eventuality is a long way away. England is currently second in
the coefficient rankings, 2.536 points above third-placed
Germany, with Italy some distance behind on 64.938.
With the coefficient based on performances over the past five
seasons from both the Champions League and Europa League
to determine entry into both, recent history is very much on
England’s side. Chelsea’s triumphs in both competitions in
2011-12 and 2012-13, plus the relatively regular progression
of Premier League teams to the middle-to-late knockout
rounds of the Champions League, have created a sizeable
Italy, by contrast, endured some particularly poor years in
2010-11 and 2011-12, which will both continue to count
against them for the immediate future. Each of those
campaigns saw only one Serie A club in the Champions
League quarter-finals (where they were eliminated), two
ousted in the last 16 and one falling at the play-off for entry
to the groups. In the same period, Italy only had three
qualifications from the Europa League groups and even saw
Roma knocked out by Slovan Bratislava in a play-off.
In the worst-case scenario for England this season, all five of
its clubs (four in the Champions League plus Tottenham)
would exit Europe in March. Meanwhile, AC Milan failed to
recover from a 1-0 first-leg deficit against Atletico Madrid.
After one of Juventus and Fiorentina eliminated the other in
their Europa League last-32 tie, they would go on to face
Napoli in the final.
At the end of such a season, England would still have a lead
of 8.653 coefficient points. Even if exactly the same season
kept repeating itself every year from now onwards, Serie A
would need two further years to usurp the Premier League.
Given that such a scenario would require Italian teams to
suddenly and consistently do much better in Europe than they
have of late, any worries about a long-term shift can be safely
forgotten for at least the next couple of years.
The more immediate concerns, however, are – as is always
the case in football now – financial. Would Champions League
exits now cause much lost sleep in England?
This is listed by UEFA in its breakdown of revenue as the
‘market pool’ and, while some clubs earn more from it than
others, it is not necessarily the biggest club or the best-
performing who get the biggest share. The fees are allocated
depending on how valuable the TV market is in that country –
while Arsenal earned €15.8m (£13.1m) from it in 2012-13,
Montpellier (who performed worse in the same group) took
home €22.8m (£18.9m).
Having qualified but then been eliminated in the last 16, the
Gunners earned €15.6m (£12.9m) in prize money that year,
while Manchester City and Chelsea were both knocked out in
the groups and took home €10.1m (£8.4m) and €12.1m
(£10m) respectively. However, they picked up €18.7m
(£15.5m) each from the market pool. Simply turning up can
be more lucrative than reaching the knockouts but no further.
However, the market pool only accounts for 45.3 per cent of
the total revenue on offer in 2012-13; prize money does add
up. Winning four and drawing one group game on their way to
winning the final saw Bayern Munich make €35.9m in prizes.
At this point, then, with the market pool allocated, how much
more is on offer for the remaining English clubs?
The answer is €19.3m. If – taking the likeliest-looking
candidate as an example – Chelsea finish off Galatasaray, they
would earn €3.9m then €4.9m for reaching the quarter and
semi-finals, before contesting the final for a €10.5m jackpot.
The runner-up is awarded €6.5m. Were all four to stage
miraculous recoveries and go on to share all four semi-final
places, they would between them bring €26.7m more into the
The potential €19m left to claim is, then, a significant sum but
not one likely to make or break any of the four gigantic
commercial entities involved.
If anyone might suffer most from its loss, it would be
Manchester United. The Red Devils look extremely unlikely to
qualify for next season’s Champions League and so will be
seeing none of that revenue in 2014-15 – perhaps for even
longer, should they continue to struggle under David Moyes.
However, in the short term, all four teams have already
banked over 60% of their potential earnings from a Champions
League run just by reaching this point. It represents a healthy
financial baseline for Premier League achievement, even if on-
pitch performances can be the subject of debate. While four
eliminations now would represent a disappointment, it is by
no means a crisis point for England in Europe.
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