English football is going through a rough patch. It was a predictable slump, but the copious amount of money entering the Premier League, while contributing to an entertaining domestic product, simultaneously built a wall of naivety.
From 2004/05 to 2011/12, English teams represented 50 percent of UEFA Champions League finalists (eight of 16). Winning the world's largest club-cup competitions three times in the space of eight seasons—level with Spain during the same duration—England built substantial capital in terms of UEFA's country coefficient.
European football's governing body, starting in 2005, installed the current performance-based structure to determine how many representatives each league receives when qualifying for the Champions League and UEFA Europa League.
England's problem is UEFA only use the five most recent years in the coefficient maths. Meaning the further removed the Premier League's glory days in the late-2000s and early-2010s—the weaker their coefficient becomes.
In the past three seasons, only one English club has properly assisted England's coefficient: Chelsea Football Club. Following their Champions League triumph in 2011/12, they were eliminated from 2012/13's UCL group stage and placed in the Europa League. From that position, Roman Abramovich's side won the competition and earned English football much-needed points. More damning, only Chelsea have reached a semi-final in any European competition post 2011/12.
This confluence of circumstance, combined with an Italian resurgence, has many English clubs worried about the allocation of European places.
As presently constituted, Spain, Germany and England have four Champions League spots. Italy, France and Portugal have three. Starting this season, no leagues are permitted more than three Europa League spots, every European league (except Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, Andorra and San Marino) send a trio to the Europa League.
Champions League places—being the primary objective for every major club when seasons begin—are insanely lucrative. Television money, prize winnings and the prestige connected to the European Cup make for fantastic brand exposure. Teams in the UCL can attract better players, managers and sponsors. It is a tremendous carrot.
Losing a Champions League place would not be crippling for English football, but it would display, rather starkly, the precipitous drop the Premier League has incurred over the last half-decade. Starting next season, Chelsea's 2011/12 trophy, while never forgotten by the west London faithful, will be removed from UEFA's coefficient.
This, and other results, gives Italy a massive boost starting from 2016/17.
England's current coefficient is 73.909. Italy's coefficient is 70.272. This will change over the next few months, as every 2015/16 win adds to the numbers. Serie A began with six European teams, England with eight. The formula states for every win, Italy receive 0.333 points, while England (due to their greater representation) receive 0.25 points.
I just want to see Leicester City in the Champions League next year. Imagine them facing Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus etc.?— Juan Direction (@JuanDirection57) 14 February 2016
Six English clubs remain in Europe, while there remain just three Italian clubs. Arsenal and Roma are on their proverbial deathbeds vs. Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, but every other club has an opportunity to advance in the Champions League, or are awaiting the Europa League's round of 16 draw.
If Juventus lose to Bayern Munich, which is perfectly reasonable, that leaves Italy with just Lazio to earn points throughout this season. If Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Chelsea can win fixtures and advance, they could establish a buffer when UEFA recalibrate next year's coefficient.
Due to 2011/12's removal, Serie A will gain 3.893 points on the Premier League. England's current margin is 3.637—leaving them at a deficit if the season ended today.
In principle, though, England has little to worry about next year. It stands to reason Italy's would-be 0.265 point advantage will morph into an English one by the time 2015/15 concludes—specifically if European competitions are taken seriously by all remaining Premier League participants. How large England's advantage swells remains to be seen (should it even arrive).
This makes the 2016/17 season paramount. Barring total English domination this season, the distance between Italy and England will be razor thin. If Premier League clubs repeat 2014/15's horrific display, it seems more than plausible—with a rampant Juve, Roma and/or resurgent Milan clubs—2017/18 could be the first season England are without four Champions League qualification spots since 2000/01.
Without attempting to insult anyone's intelligence, with the Europa League now capped at three teams per league across the board, having a fourth Champions League spot is invaluable.
If, for example, Italy can only have six European teams, but England can have seven, only a catastrophic collapse of the latter, and resurrection of the former, could create the perfect storm to make deploying an extra team moot.
Last season was the start of one such perfect storm. Juventus reaching the Champions League final, while England sat at home for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals of the UCL and UEL was an opening for a murderous, three-mile-wide asteroid to smash the Premier League at 50,000 miles per hour.
Thanks to an improbable Didier Drogba penalty in Munich, though, England have this season as a reprieve—one opportunity to accrue as many coefficient points as possible before next season's inevitable dent is created, praying Roma and Juve are picked off by Real Madrid and Bayern, then drawing Lazio in the Europa League and dispatching them.
So: How close are the Premier League to losing their fourth Champions League place? We cannot know for sure until the end of 2016/17 but, if all goes to plan, the spot should be safe for at least two more seasons.
In the worst-case scenario, however, English football (as currently understood) will change quickly, dramatically and not for the better.