The Next 7 Days Decide Future of Greek Club Soccer in Europe…
by Sarantos Kaperonis
Greek football clubs have been in a crisis, without a doubt, for many seasons, especially in European play. The lack of good results has dropped Greece in UEFA's Associations’ Club Coefficient Rank, which has, and will have, major repercussions for Greek teams. The future of Greek club teams in Europe will be decided in the next 7 days.
The UEFA season has gotten off to a rough start for the Greek teams. In the third qualifying of both the UEFA Champions and Europa Leagues, only one out of five Greek teams progressed to their respective competition's next round. AEK and PAS Giannina were knocked out of the Europa League while both PAOK and Olympiacos were eliminated from the Champions League and were "demoted" to the Europa League.
The Greek teams have been forced to play very early in the season (July) due to their poor results over the last 5 years in Europe. In a time period where teams are still in pre-season training, they are put into action in games that will decide their European season. Instead of having a sure representative in the group stages of both the Champions League (SuperLeague Champion) and Europa League (Greek Cup Champion), Greece is now scrambling to get a team in the Europa League group stage. Greece went from consistently having two teams in the Champions League group stages (had THREE in 2003), falling down to one team since 2008, to having none this season (the first time in 20 years). And this will only be the beginning.
Greece has three representatives left in UEFA’s competitions, Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, and PAOK. The three teams will play in the Europa League Playoff Qualifying Round and are the favorites to progress at the expense of their respective opponents. ALL THREE MUST QUALIFY. One or more not qualifying would be catastrophic to the future of Greek soccer teams in Europe.
In case you're lost: At the end of the 2014-2015 UEFA season, Greece finished 13th in UEFA’s Association Rank, meaning that the 2015-2016 Greek league & cup (last season) would yield 5 teams for the 2016-2017 UEFA season (this season). Greece’s 13th rank meant that the SuperLeague Champion would lose their automatic bid to the Champions League Group stage and the Greek Cup winner would lose their place in the Europa League group stage. These teams were forced to play in qualifying, which resulted in Olympiacos’ (SuperLeague Champion) elimination from the Champions League and AEK’s (Greek Cup Champion) elimination from the Europa League. At the end of the 2015-2016 UEFA season (last season), Greece finished in 14th place in UEFA’s Association Rank meaning that this year’s domestic league and cup will again yield 5 teams for the 2017-2018 UEFA season (next season). Similar to this year, the SuperLeague Champion will enter Champions League qualifying along with the SuperLeague runner-up. The Greek cup champion will enter the Europa League 3rd qualifying round along with the 3rd placed SuperLeague team while the SuperLeague 4th placed team will enter the Europa league 2nd Qualifying Round.
Greece is currently 15th in UEFA’s Association Rank. At the end of this season (May 2017), Greece’s rank will determine the representatives for the 2018-2019 UEFA season, which will be decided from the 2017-2018 domestic league & cup competitions (next season). There are three “realistic” threshold ranks that you should know: 12th place, 13th-15th, and 16th and below.
The worst case scenario is 16th place and below. If Greece finishes in 16th they will lose their second representative to the Champions League and teams in the Europa League could begin as early as the first qualifying round (late JUNE). Greece’s priority will be to maintain 15th or higher in order to keep both of their representatives in the Champions League and three teams in the Europa League. Twelfth place seems an unreachable goal for this season, but can be reached in the future with good results from our teams in Europe. With a 12th place finish, Greece will keep their 5 representative (2 in the Champions League and 3 in the Europa League), but the Superleague and Greek Cup Champions will be granted an automatic place in the Champions League and Europa League group stages, avoiding the dreadful qualification process.
Croatia recently passed Greece in UEFA’s Association rank to move into 14th with Austria and Romania closing in on 15th place. However, Greece’s threat does not stop there. As of right now, Greece will begin the next UEFA season in 16th place behind Austria, further adding to Greece’s problems.
With these countries threatening to drop Greece to 16th or below 16th place, it will be up to Olympiacos, PAOK, and Panathinaikos to prevent this from happening. Progressing to the group stages of the competition for all three teams will ensure 18 more games for the three teams. These games, which will be mostly against average opponents, will give opportunities for Greece to earn points and avoid dropping to 16th place. More importantly, these points will carry over to the next four seasons, put Greece in a better position for next season (avoid starting in 16th place-the current situation), and possibly bring 12th place back into site.
However, this cannot happen if Greece does not have three teams in the group stages of the Europa League. All three must qualify. If not, 16th place could become Greece’s reality. It is time to put our rivalries aside and support the Greek teams in European play because ultimately the future of our respective team depends on it. These next 7 days will determine if Greek teams will have the opportunity to once again enjoy an automatic place in the Champions and Europa League group stages or if their European season could possibly end in early July. Let us hope for the best...