Wales, Europe and summer football

UEFA Super Cup 2014

The winners of the Champions League and the Europa League will compete for the UEFA Super Cup at the Cardiff City Stadium on 12 August, but before the game is even played, Welsh hopes in Europe are already over for this season.

Aberystwyth, Bangor and Airbus’s Europa League campaigns finished on 10 July, with all three clubs going out in the Europa League first qualifying round.

And this week, it was the end of the road for The New Saints in the Champions League, after losing for the second time in two legs against Slovan Bratislava from Slovakia.

Before the end of July and 319 days before the end of European club season, all of Wales’s representatives are out.

TNS played well in parts but their record over the last three season in the Champions League is played 6, lost 5, drawn 1 and only 1 goal scored.

This season, Airbus were the only team to avoid defeat in any of the games, with a draw in the home leg, losing narrowly by one goal over both legs against Haugesund of Norway.

Bangor City and Aberystwyth Town will be disappointed with their results – losing 8-0 and 9-0 respectively over two legs, against Stjarnan of Iceland and Derry City from the Republic of Ireland.

Over the eight games, the aggregate score was Wales 2-23 The Rest of Europe. There’s no way of sugar coating that this season has been a failure from Wales’s teams in Europe.

Looking at summer football

So, what’s the answer? How can Welsh clubs’ European performances be improved?

One suggestion that comes about every year is moving the Welsh Premier League season to playing in the summer.

In the Europa League this season, all three Welsh clubs faced opposition who play their football over the summer, and were well into their regular season. The argument is that the clubs from the summer leagues have an advantage over Welsh teams in terms of fitness and match sharpness.

After hearing this argument last week following the Welsh teams’ exit, I looked at five seasons of the Europa League first qualifying round between this season and 2010 to see if there is a statistical pattern – do the ‘summer’ teams have a statistical advantage over ‘winter’ teams?

Since 2010, there have been 60 games between ‘summer’ teams and ‘winter’ teams in the Europa League first qualifying round.

Of the 60 games, the ‘summer’ teams have won 37 games – 62.2% – and the ‘winter’ teams have won 23 games – 38.3%.

But more ‘summer’ teams are seeded in the first round. Of the 37 games won by ‘summer’ teams, there were only 7 victories by unseeded side – 18.9%.

Of the 23 games won by ‘winter’ teams, there were 5 victories by unseeded teams – 21.7%.

So even though the ‘summer’ teams won more games against the ‘winter’ teams, the proportion of games won by seeded and unseeded teams playing in the two system are very similar, with slightly more unseeded teams in the ‘winter’ overturning supposedly better seeded ‘summer’ opposition.

According to UEFA’s system, the better a team does in Europe, the better their chance of being seeded in the future, and easier games should follow.

The result is a ‘chicken and egg’ situation – more ‘summer’ teams win against ‘winter’ teams but is it because they’re seeded and playing against ‘easier’ opposition or is it because they’re halfway through their season when the qualifying games are played?

The answer is probably a combination of both.

Summer football teams and the group stages

Looking past the first qualifying round, what is the value of playing in the summer in advancing in the competitions and reaching the promised land – the Europa League group stages.

Between 2010 and 2014, 64 summer football teams played in the Europa League first qualifying round.

Of those 64 teams, only one reached the group stages – Rosenborg in 2012/13.

24 of the summer teams exited the competition in the next round, the second qualifying round, meaning that 37.5% of the teams were out in the second round.

If 37.5% of the ‘summer’ teams lose in the next round, and only one team in 4 seasons has reached the group stages, would the massive upheaval required to move to summer football be worthwhile for the Welsh Premier League?

Switching to summer football might mean slightly more victories in the early qualifying rounds, but there is no evidence to suggest that playing summer football would help Welsh teams to progress into the latter stages of the competition.

Of course, the aim is to be as ambitious as possible, raising the standard of the league and reaching for the highest targets, but in reality, is moving the schedule of the season to the summer the best way to secure better European performances?

Maybe Welsh teams would win a handful more games every few seasons, but looking at the patterns that already exist, I don’t believe that playing in the summer would have much of an effect on the Welsh Premier League teams in Europe.