Data Analysis

AFC Ajax: saving the Dutch UEFA ranking?

04/04/17 | SciSports

Late August of last year, things were looking bleak for Dutch powerhouse Ajax. They not only dropped points in the league against small sides Roda JC and Willem II, but also got denied entrance to the Champions League group stage after a painful 4-1 away defeat against FK Rostov. After their exit from the Champions League, we looked whether or not Ajax’ defeat was good for Dutch football. Now, with the team having reached the quarterfinals of the Europa League, we take another look at Ajax and their contribution to the UEFA ranking.

In the original post, we argued that Ajax getting knocked out of the Champions League could in the long-term be beneficial to the Dutch’ coefficient on the UEFA country ranking. The average points collected for the UEFA ranking was 9.075 after the loss against Rostov, while an alternative reality where Ajax did qualify for the CL group stage would only yield an average of 8.605 points.

The graph above tells us the chance of Ajax collecting a certain amount of points. It shows that Ajax would most likely have had to qualify for the CL knock-out stage to amass more than 15 points. As it stands, Ajax has already collected 18 points, with the opportunity of adding more to their total in the two matches versus Schalke 04.

Our simulation clearly did not expect Ajax to perform as well as it did this European season. Not surprisingly, since this is the first time the club has reached the quarterfinals since their 2002/2003 CL campaign when they lost in the quarterfinals to eventual winners AC Milan.

However, with a chance of only 13.47% of reaching the Champions League knock-out stage according to our simulation, it is safe to say that Ajax would not have fared better in the Champions League, point-wise.

Now, with the team being the sole remaining representative of the Netherlands in Europe, the team has had a positive influence on the country’s UEFA ranking. Mainly due to Ajax’ strong performances, the Netherlands has a total of 7.9 points (39.5 divided over five clubs), the highest in five years. In comparison, current league champions PSV, who did qualify for the CL group stage, only collected six points and finished fourth, while Feyenoord obtained 5 points after not surviving the EL group stage.

This brings us the following question: has Ajax saved the Dutch UEFA ranking (for now)? That might be overdoing it a bit, but it cannot be denied that Ajax has been the top performer for Dutch football in Europe.

Looking at previous years, we see the following:

Note: AZ did compete in Europe in the 2012-2013 season, but failed to collect any points. The same is true for Feyenoord in the 2013-2014 season. AZ did not participate in Europe in the 2014-2015 season, while Feyenoord did not participate in Europe in the 2015-2016 season.

In the last five years, Ajax has continuously been in the top two when it comes to points collected for the UEFA ranking. This season and two years ago, Ajax amassed the most points, while in the other three seasons the team saw only other Dutch team score higher (FC Twente in 2012-2013, AZ in 2013-2014 and PSV in 2015-2016). Over the last five years, Ajax has averaged 11.8 points per season.

Even though Feyenoord has been active in Europe in four of the last five seasons (they did not qualify for European football in 2015-2016), the club from Rotterdam has been largely disappointing, obtaining less than one point on two occasions. The last two European campaigns have been somewhat promising, however, scoring 10.5 and 5.0. AZ and PSV are the other two teams who have made a positive contribution to Dutch football, although neither with the consistency that Ajax has shown.

It is true that Ajax has had some disappointing European performances, with this year’s thrashing against Rostov being a particular negative display. And the numbers show us that Dutch football is currently nowhere near its level of, say, five years ago.

As the graph shows, Dutch football has been in somewhat over a freefall over the past few years, which was mostly masked due to the strong performances of PSV, AZ, Ajax and FC Twente in the 2011-2012 season (13.600 points on the country ranking).

So, coming back to the question we asked ourselves: is Ajax saving the Dutch UEFA ranking? We can conclude that Ajax’ performances have been quite consistent and at the least of a decent level. This season has been a particular highlight, with the club achieving its highest score since that memorable Champions League campaign in 2002-2003.

We can also conclude that without Ajax’ performances over the years, Dutch football would most likely be worse off. PSV and AZ have done a decent job of scoring points for the UEFA ranking, but other teams have often failed before the season has true and well begun; out of 30 participations in the last five years, 14 scored two points or lower.

To call Ajax the savior of Dutch football might be a bridge too far, but they are certainly the top performer for the Dutch. Regardless of the finances and talent available to them, that should earn them some praise at the least.