Some things are somewhat of a given in Premier League football; fans chanting ‘ole’ after their team strings ten passes together, Jose Mourinho blaming the officials for any defeat - regardless of the scoreline - the phrase ‘can he do it on a cold, rainy night in Stoke?’ and the league having four Champions League spots.
But as we found out towards the start of the season, that final position could be under threat. Owing to UEFA’s coefficient system, the Premier League’s fourth Champions League place is in danger of being snatched away by Italy’s Serie A.
How it works
In simple terms, points are awarded for how each team from every league fares in both the Champions League and the Europa League, with points being given for wins and draws, and extra points awarded for teams who reach the knockout stages of each respective competition.
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These points are tallied and then divided by the number of teams representing each country, giving the coefficient score.
The total score takes into account the previous five years of competition, and when the 2011/12 campaign is wiped away next season, Italy will be dangerously close to England’s score, allowing them to gain an extra place should they overtake the Premier League.
England currently trail both Spain and Germany in the coefficient table, and English teams’ poor performance last season has seen Italy close the gap considerably. With the Premier League’s equally poor start to this campaign, a place that English clubs have become so complacent about is in a worrying predicament.
What has gone wrong?
Why England are performing poorly is difficult to attribute to any one reason, but there are certainly a number of factors working against them.
One such reason is that England is quite simply not producing enough world-class, home-grown players.
Last season, English players accounted for less than a third of playing time - the 32.36% figure pales in comparison to the 69% of 20 years ago. The FA have targeted 45% by 2022, but even this is lower than the current figure in the Spanish and German leagues.
The top clubs use the least English players, but this in itself should not be a significant factor - English clubs spend hundreds of millions every season to bring in talented foreign players. But without a base of English players who can make a real difference in the Champions League games, the hopes of progressing in the tournament are made more difficult.
Spanish, German and to an extent, Italian teams have the aid of young homegrown players who are able to break into the side, continue to develop, and stay there.
Take Borussia Dortmund for example, who have produced players such as Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Nuri Sahin in the past few years, while Premier League champions Chelsea have struggled to produce young players capable of breaking into the first team for a long time now.
This means that Premier League clubs need to spend more and more money to compete, while at the same time clubs like Barcelona - despite spending large sums themselves - always have home-grown players in their starting line-up and on the bench who are able to comfortably make the transition into the first team.
In the Premier League - in particular the largest clubs - young English players who have worked their way through the system struggle to find the playing time bar a few minutes in competitions like the League Cup, and are usually sent out on loan to Football League clubs, and a few years later, eventually sold to a team in the lower divisions.
The number of foreign players imported into the league has been blamed for a long time, but it could be the case that the players produced in these academies are quite simply not up to the standard of those produced in other countries.
Many national teams have a wealth of players to call up to their squads, whereas the England team seems to have fewer players to call upon.
To improve the situation against other European giants, English clubs could benefit from a solid base of young players brought through the ranks of youth systems, and while this may not solve all of their problems, it has certainly worked for others.
For the sake of our beloved fourth spot, St George’s Park needs to have an impact on English football.