An indepth comparison of the European co-efficient: How close are Dundalk to making a breakthrough in Europe?

Sun, Aug 18 2019

Vinny Perth during his side's clash with Slovan Bratislava. Credit: Al Robinson (ETPhotos)

Having just watched Dundalk thump Finn Harps 5-0 to take a commanding lead at the top of the Premier Division, a league they have won four out of the previous five years, with an EA Cup semi-final to come (another competition they’ve conquered recently (2014, 2017), and a trip to Derry in the FAI Cup also around the corner (a competition won in both 2015 and 2018), it is possible they may achieve silverware on a few counts this season. There is no doubt that they are the dominant force in the League of Ireland over the past six seasons. But what about their place outside the domestic game? Where do they stand in Europe?

On Tuesday evening, in a press conference in Tallaght Stadium, Dundalk Head Coach Vinny Perth stated that "the club is going to the next level, it’s up to the players to go to the next level with us. That is the plan and that’s our goal, to be in and around play-off stages and group stages of the Europa League.” He went on to say, “You need a bit of luck in the draw in Europe, you really do.”

So, what do they have to do to get back to the group stages like they did in 2016? Let’s delve beyond the concept of luck and discover what is actually needed to become a regular at this stage of the competition? It’s virtually impossible to go through every club in minute detail and create a detailed comparison with Dundalk based on resources, wages, facilities, strength of league etc so the most valid (though neither flawless nor without criticism) way is through the UEFA club rankings.

UEFA note that “the club coefficients are based on the results of clubs competing in the five previous seasons of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. The rankings determine the seeding of each club in relevant UEFA competition draws. The season club coefficients are based on the results of clubs competing in the current UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League season. The rankings, combined with those of the previous four seasons, determine the seeding for each club in all UEFA competition draws.”

This article attempts to use the rankings system to determine if Dundalk are close to achieving their stated objectives and, if not, what they have to do to get there. As a caveat, there can be fluctuations in this system- especially at the club’s ranked outside the top hundred who have not competed regularly at European level in recent times - and there may be a financial splurge which hasn’t been reflected in the club’s standing. However, despite these misgivings, I feel that using the club rankings is a relatively accurate method of assessing comparisons and progress between European clubs on an objective basis- it’s not the only measure which should be used but tells a story nonetheless.

For this 2019/20 European season the following teams have just qualified for the Champions route of Europa League Play Off Stages. Their rankings shown in brackets are based on the final rankings of the previous year as the current rankings are still in progress.

Suduva (231) v Ferencvaros (292)

Kobenhavn (48) v FC Riga (410)

Celtic (47) v AIK (192)

Ararat-Armenia (First season) v Dudelange (169)

Ludogorets (58) v Maribor (79)

Linfield (344) v Qarabag (70)

Slovan Bratislava (181) v PAOK (65)

Astana (57) v BATE (55)

With Dundalk seeded at 155, of the 8 teams ranked below them who have made the Play Off stages of the Champions Route, Linfield- who faced FB Torshavn (319) and Sutjeska (317) and Ararat-Armenia- who defeated Lincoln Red Imps (234) and Saburtalo (First season) are the only two not to have played a tie involving teams in the top 150.  

 

Last year, the following teams qualified for the Champions route of Europa League Play Off Stages. Their rankings are in brackets.

Olimpia Ljubjlana (301) v Spartak Trnava (282)

APOEL Nicosia (55) v Astana (67)

Rosenborg (136) v Shkandija (278)

Dudelange (279) v CFR Cluj (227)

Suduva (328) v Celtic (47)

Sheriff (97) v Qarabag (73)

Malmo (107) v Midjytland (114)

Torpedo Kutaisi (404) v Ludogorets (39)

 

With Dundalk seeded at 188 last year, of the seven clubs with a lower ranking than Dundalk five had beaten clubs in the top 150 clubs. Of the two others, one was Cluj - who beat Alekshart ranked 315- and they’ve proved to have strong European pedigree this season by defeating Astana, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Celtic. The other side to escape a top 150 ranked team were Torpedo Kutaisi - victors over 217 seeds Kukesi - and they ended up being beaten 5-0 by Ludogorets in the Play Off Round. Based on last year’s ties, if you are not ranked within the top 150 there’s a very high likelihood that you’ll meet somebody there on the journey to the Play Offs. Sixteen teams, nine within the top 150 and five of the seven beat a club inside the top 150 to get there. Therefore, once again, two of the 16 teams to get to the Play Off Round didn’t play a tie involving clubs in the top 150. This equates to 12.5% or 8 to 1 in old bookmaker’s odds.

So let’s look at Dundalk themselves over their past six years of consecutive European competition. Seedings are based on the previous five years but let’s use all the evidence available to us. In 2014, Dundalk were ranked 430 in Europe - which was the sixth highest placing amongst League of Ireland clubs, behind Derry City (367), Bohemians (313), Sligo Rovers (312), St Patrick’s Athletic (269) and Shamrock Rovers (255).

The first side they faced were Jeunesse Esch (356) and beat the outfit from Luxembourg in both legs. They were then drawn against Hajduk Split (163). Having lost the first leg 2-1 at Oriel Park, they won the second leg in Croatia 2-0 but lost 3-2 on aggregate. That second leg tie success propelled Stephen Kenny’s men to 389 so in 2015 they faced BATE Borisov (63). Having been defeated 2-1 in the opening fixture, a 0-0 draw at Oriel Park in the return saw another jump in places for 2016 with the side now ranked 359 in Europe. In their first European encounter they drew both home (1-1) and away (2-2) with Iceland’s FH (241) and went through on away goals. Following this, they were once again drawn with BATE (now 64) and, once again, lost by a single goal in Borisov. However, they recorded a famous 3-0 success in Tallaght and qualified for the Play Off Round of the Champions League where they faced Legia Warsaw (74). The Poles won over the two legs (winning 2-0 at the Aviva, drawing 1-1 in Warsaw) but Dundalk still qualified for the Europa League group stages. Here, they recorded a draw against AZ (44) and a win over Maccabi Tel Aviv (98) before losing in the return legs of both ties and being defeated by Zenit St Petersburg (15) both home and away.

2017 saw Dundalk now ranked inside the top 250, in 237th place and they faced off against Rosenborg  (138). After a 1-1 draw at Oriel Park, the Norwegians won after extra time but Dundalk continued to rise in the club rankings and were ranked in 188th place when they were drawn to play Levadia Tallinn (310) in the Europa League (their first time entering this competition directly since the Zagreb game in 2014). Having beaten Tallinn both home and away, only the second team they’ve defeated in 90 minutes since 2014- both ranked outside the top 300 at the time. Following their victory, they faced AEK Larnaca (211) and were defeated 4-0 on aggregate despite a goalless draw at Oriel Park.

This year saw FC Riga (410) defeated on penalties - Dundalk becoming the first side since Linfield in 2012 to progress having failed to score in both legs. Next up were Qarabag (70) who drew 1-1 in Oriel Park before winning 3-0 in Baku. Finally, Slovan Bratislava (181) defeated Dundalk (155) in both legs to send the Lilywhites out of Europe.

 

Record over 90 minutes since 2014 (Total)

Played (30)

Won  (7)

Drew  (9)

Lost (14)

Win % (Average 23.3%)

Against higher ranking teams

20

3

6

11

15%

Against lower ranking teams

10

4

3

3

40%

 

 

The past two seasons have seen Dundalk play five teams, of which four were ranked lower than them. They’ve recorded two wins over 90 minutes - both to Tallinn who were ranked outside the top 300.

In the past six years Dundalk have risen from a ranking of 430 to a high of 155 (they are currently 169 in the latest rankings). Similarly, the co-efficient for the League of Ireland has seen it now placed at number 37 out of 55 European leagues while it was 43rd in 2014.

For Dundalk, currently at 169 in the rankings to achieve their stated objectives of becoming a team which belong at the Play Off stages of the Europa League, there is a 12.5% chance that they will need to? avoid any team ranked above them. Since beating Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Europa League group stages, Dundalk have only won two games over 90 minutes (Levadia Tallinn) - despite facing four teams ranked below them. There is an argument that they defeated FC Riga on penalties, however- as outlined previously this was the first time in seven years that a team had failed to score and still progress.

On current form, based on these statistics from UEFA.com, Dundalk are making progress in Europe as a club (moving from 430 to 169 in the rankings) and have helped raise the league’s co-efficient ranking. However, to take the next step and actually become competitive close to the Group Stages, they need to start winning ties against teams in the top 150 - something which they have only achieved once in their past 30 games.  

So what does a team in the top 150 look like? Bearing in mind that, coming into this European season Dundalk were 155, how do they compare with their close competitors? Ranked at number 150 in the 2018/19 standings are Olympik Donetsk. According to www.transfermarkt.com, a resource used by researchers in the field, their squad is worth over £6 million, play in a stadium with almost 18,000 seats and no current international players.

Number 150 the previous season were Oostende of Belgium, a club who had sold £20 million worth of players in 2017/18, spending £6m themselves. 2016/17 saw Hapoel Beer Sheva occupy number 150. The Israeli club, in 2016/17 had two players valued at over £1m, a squad worth over £12m and a 16,000 seater stadium. Incidentally, all three leagues in which these clubs are competing have secured TV deals of an annual worth of £75m (Belgium) and £13.5m (Israel) while the £4m in rights which Ukrainian Premier League teams held in 2016 was considered low compared to their peers and has been sent out for tender earlier this year.

When considering that the same source they value the entire Dundalk squad at £1.24m, Oriel Park has a capacity of 4,500 and that Dundalk have never paid nor received a transfer fee close to £100,000 in their history, nor do they play in a league with a TV revenue to remotely rival aforementioned clubs. With that in mind it is quite an achievement to be in the company of the clubs they’re ranked alongside. However, both on and off the field, the gulf is still there to be seen and it’s unlikely, given the evidence outlined in this article that luck is going to cut it.

Let’s leave the last words to Perth, “We’re playing at a high level and it’s difficult. Irish clubs will have to go to the well to get results at this level for the next couple of years.” The hope being that there’s a lot more than water down there.