On Thursday earlier this week, anticipation built around Monte Carlo as representatives from Europe’s top clubs gathered in one room to view the live drawing of the groups for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. Some of Soccer’s biggest faces could be seen in the crowd as well as on stage to assist in the drawing of the teams including the likes of Luis Figo, Michael Owen, and Yohan Cruyff.
The draw itself seems simple enough with 32 teams, 10 of whom had advanced through a play off round to reach the draw, needing to be divided and placed into the eight 4-team groups. How these teams are separated and put into the aforementioned groups is where the simplicity ends. Cruyff, Owen and Figo had the easy jobs of simply pulling balls out of the bowls but how each ball with a specific team name got into each bowl and which groups they went into after being drawn is a little more complicated.
The draw first begins with which teams are in each of the 4 numbered “pots”. Randomness has nothing to do with how each teams finds itself in their corresponding pot rather, team performance of the previous 5 years does. Pot 1 has the previous year’s title holders and the 7 top seeded teams with pots 2, 3 and 4 each containing the descending order of seeded teams down to the lowest seed.
The seeding process, as mentioned earlier involves a club’s performance in UEFA competition over the previous 5 years including both the Champions League and the Europa League. The points system is based on the extent of progression the club achieved in the tournaments and are added up. The points system for the Champions League and Europa League are as follows:
Champions League points system
First qualifying round elimination – 0.5 points
Second qualifying round elimination – 1 point
Group stage participation – 4 points
Group stage win – 2 points
Group stage draw – 1 point
Round of 16 participation – 4 points
UEFA Europa League points system
First qualifying round elimination – 0.25 points
Second qualifying round elimination – 0.5 points
Third qualifying round elimination – 1 point
Play-off elimination – 1.5 points
Group stage win – 2 points
Group stage draw – 1 point
Since 2009, in the Champions League each team is awarded an additional point if they reach the round of 16, quarter final, semi-final or final and in the Europa league any team reaching the group stages receives 2 points with an additional point for quarter-final, semi-final or final progression.
Each teams various accumulations of points each season over the previous 5 seasons are added up plus an additional 20% of the team’s country’s coefficient (a separate UEFA calculation). It is from these totals that each team is seeded.
Naturally the consistent performers in the Champions League will receive the higher coefficient seed making Pot 1 the heavyweight and Pot 4 the newcomers and potential unknowns. This takes us to how each team from each pot makes it into a group. The draw goes through a pot completely before moving to the next pot starting at Pot 1. Each group is designated with a letter.
This is where standard UEFA guidelines start to blend with the business and financial end of things. The 8 lettered groups are separated into a Blue and Red designation. Group A-D are Red while E-H are Blue. This separation for UEFA maintains which teams play on Tuesday and which play on Wednesday.
A dual purpose for the colors though is for Television. By designating a Red and Blue group, teams are limited in where they can be placed as well as who else plays on the same day as them. UEFA already doesn’t allow for any teams within the same country to play each other in the group stages, and with the color designation, UEFA ensures that no teams within the same city (in this season’s case Man Utd & Man City) play on the same day. This has nothing to do with competition, and everything to do with ensuring the financial viability of the games and the tournament.
In the televised draw, these parameters are established before any draws are made, but throughout the draw there are times where despite a certain number of groups being technically available, only some were options due to the TV and country restrictions. It wasn’t announced that a ball had been removed from the group Pot drawing, it was simply removed by a UEFA official standing next to Figo, and then placed back in afterward.
Conspiracy theorists will argue that this is an indication of UEFA knowing where each team is equating to the draw being a complete farce. Honestly, someone put the names and groups in the balls, there are seeded groups, and there’s enough stratification for the tournament that somebody has to know. Beyond that point, UEFA discloses what the parameters are in the draw since every club is in attendance and any discrepancy would be noticed immediately. This draw is actually one of the most evenly distributed group stages in years and anyone who is annoyed about UEFA making accommodations for TV have little room to complain since it is that TV money that helps to make the Champions League so lucrative to participate in.
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