Why Celtic's Champions League exit may not hurt Scotland's coefficient

Schadenfreude and football go together like a double cheeseburger and large fries. You know it's wrong but damn it feels so right.

Celtic exited the Champions League last night after a 2-1 defeat to AEK Athens. Picture: AP
Celtic exited the Champions League last night after a 2-1 defeat to AEK Athens. Picture: AP

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Andrew Smith: Easy conclusions hide the actual truth of Celtic's exit

Every day of our lives we’re likely to encounter someone who supports an opposing team. And when your side is struggling, you can’t help but cringe in advance at the inevitable “what’s up with your lot, then?” that’s coming your way after a particularly bad result.

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Thankfully, nothing in football is permanent. What goes around comes around and every season there is a chance to be that smug git around your office/friends group/family when other teams fall on hard times.

This may not happen too often if the people around you support Celtic or Rangers (pre-Banter Years). However, there’s always the solace of European football. Having been skelped by the aforementioned pair on the domestic scene, it’s hard not to sit back and have a good chuckle at someone doing it to them. It’s like seeing the school bully having his pants pulled down in front of everyone.

The one downside to such schadenfreude is that those offended by your laughing can quickly turn it into a guilt trip. “Don’t you want Scottish football to succeed? What about the coefficient?!” they shout in righteous indignation.

It’s annoying because it’s true. While it’s pretty easy in football to ignore the big picture and focus on the latest result, it’s hard not to recognise the disintegration of Scottish football on the continent over the years. Even 10-15 years ago we had Hearts and Aberdeen qualifying for the group stages of the Uefa Cup, while both Celtic and Rangers routinely participated in the Champions League.

Even if you don’t care much for the latter, you have to admit their success makes it easier for other Scottish clubs to enjoy their own European adventure that doesn’t involve trips to the Faroe Islands or Moldova.

These exact back-and-forths will be playing out across the country today after Celtic’s defeat in AEK Athens last night. Having qualified for the previous two, Brendan Rodgers’ men will not make the UCL group stages for the third season running. The team that’s held up our nations coefficient over recent seasons won’t get the chance to rub it with the elite of European football. While it may be funny to other fans in isolation, we all end up suffering, right?

Not necessarily.

Though the Hoops made the Champions League group stages in each of the past two seasons, they didn’t give a great account of themselves on either occasion. Admittedly, they were handed a tough draw each time, but it would be optimistic to expect any different had they made it again this season. Even the fourth place teams in countries like England, Spain and Germany have riches that our sides can’t even fathom, and the same goes for leading clubs across other countries in Europe.

By dropping into the Europa League, there’s an opportunity to put just as many coefficient points on the board, if not more.

Member associations are calculated by taking the coefficient points taken by each club and dividing them by how many participated in European football.

Here’s the breakdown for each...

Champions League and Europa League group stages: two points for a win

Champions League and Europa League group stages: one point for a draw

Qualifying rounds: one point for a win

Qualifying rounds: 0.5 points for a draw

There’s also four bonus points for reaching the Champions League group stages, which counts towards the association coefficient, and five bonus points for qualifying for the knockout stages of the same competition. There’s nothing extra for the Europa League until teams reach the quarter-finals, then it’s an additional one bonus point for each round.

As mentioned, Celtic advanced to the group stages of the Champions League in each of the past two seasons. In 2016/17 they received seven points for their group stage play alone. That was achieved thanks to reaching the groups (four points) along with two draws against Manchester City and another away to Borussia Monchengladbach (a point each).

In 2017/18 they managed to stay in Europe beyond Christmas as a result of finishing third in their group and falling into the Europa League, but scored fewer points during the group stage. That’s because they lost all of their matches except one, a 3-0 away win at Anderlecht. This scored them six points, though they soon made it eight with a first-leg victory over Zenit St Petersburg before exiting at the last 32 stage of the Europa League.

The point I’m making is this: for individual matches in both the Champions League and Europa League, the coefficient reward is the same. Celtic will lose the four bonus points made through qualifying in the first place, but they can make that back by facing weaker competition.

For instance, if they win three games in the group (say every match at Celtic Park, for example) then they’ll finish with six points and likely advance to the next stage, where they can pick up another victory. That would equal last season’s return and better 2016/17.

Here’s the coefficient return of the sides they dumped out of the third and play-off qualifying rounds in each of the previous two campaigns.

Astana 2016/17 achieved four points (one win, two draws)

Hapoel Beer-Sheva 2016/17 achieved six points (two wins, two draws)

Rosenborg 2017/18 achieved four points (one win, two draws)

Astana 2017/18 achieved eight points (three wins and a draw in the group, one knockout stage draw)

Only one matches Celtic’s point total from last season, but they were all proven to be weaker than the Scottish champions.

There’s also the Europa League play-off round where they’ll likely face Lithuanian side Suduva, a team they’ll have a much better chance of beating over two legs, thus earning an additional point on what they achieved at the same stage in each of the last two seasons. Had they remained in the Champions League they would have faced MOL Vidi. The Hoops would have been highly fancied to go through, but considering the Hungarians are undefeated in this year’s qualifying campaign thus far and knocked out Bordeaux last year, it would be highly presumptuous to say Celtic would have defeated them home and away.

The draw will play a part. If they’re unlucky again then this is all a moot point. However, Celtic have a club coefficient of 31.000, which will a place them in pot 2, meaning there should be two weaker teams in there with them. Also, while there’s no possibility of the extra five bonus points for reaching the Champions League knockout stages, we can all admit that was never likely to happen.

So, if you support any other Scottish club, feel free to gorge on your delicious schadenfreude. As for Celtic fans, look on the bright side: this could maybe be the chance to get some momentum in Europe, learn some lessons and come back stronger next year.

Provided your club sign a few defenders.