By Peter Staunton
What is more strange - that Borussia Dortmund entered this season's Champions League as a Pot 4 team or that, from there, they have progressed all the way to the brink of the very final itself?
In reaching the last four and demolishing top-ranked Real Madrid along the way, they have illustrated an anomaly in Uefa's current seeding and coefficient systems by defying them so decisively. Nowhere else in the world of sport is rapid success so unequivocally ignored than in the upper tiers of European football.
Dortmund are the 31st-best team in Europe, currently, behind the likes of Metalist Kharkiv, Braga and PSV, the coefficients would have you believe. Two early exits from the Uefa Cup/Europa League and a campaign without European football at all prior to their seizing of two Bundesliga titles still count against them.
And this despite the fact that, right now, Dortmund are the best-performing team in Europe this season bar none, according to Uefa's numbers, and have one foot in Wembley's May 26 showpiece event.
|HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS
|The Champions League was expanded and completely revamped ahead of the 1999-2000 season. Up until the 1996-97 campaign only one team per nation, the title holders, were granted entry. There followed a two-year spell in which teams were seeded in the draw based on their national association coefficient.
Manchester United, famously in 1999, became the first team to win the Champions League without previously winning their domestic league. From 1999-2000 on, however, teams were effectively put in control of their own seeding.
Uefa, since then, has utilised a club-specific coefficient for each team based on results achieved in European competition over the preceding five years, plus 20 per cent of the whole association coefficient.
The outgoing German champions are set to become only the second team in 14 years to reach final after being drawn as bottom seeds in the group-stage draw. In that sense Dortmund should rightly be commended for their season's work but their progress also makes a mockery of Uefa's system which continues to fall on the side of the tournament's traditional elite.
Only Dortmund, this season, and Monaco, in 2003-04, have gone this far in the Champions League since the club coefficient metric was introduced. That equates to around four per cent of Champions League semi-finalists drawn from this band. From Pot 1, the figure is 66% - 37 of 56 team in total. So that confirms that the best teams go deep in the competition most often.
Taken at face value that may be the case. But due to a variety of factors the Champions League could be perceived to be a closed shop which funnels the biggest teams to the latter stages despite a claimed equality in the competition's fabric. From teams of the same country being kept apart in the group stage to group winners being guaranteed a home draw in the second legs of the knockouts, the dice are loaded heavily in favour of the giants.
In that respect, Dortmund have broken through the glass ceiling. Due to their blunting of Real Madrid's group-stage challenge, Manchester United went out ahead of schedule. Had Dortmund done what was expected of them, namely play to their coefficient ranking and finish in the bottom two places of their group, then United would have avoided Real Madrid in the last 16. Instead two of Uefa's giant teams were forced to contest a tie ahead of time. Dortmund's over-achievement distorted the paradigm.
For their own part, United have benefited most from Uefa's coefficient system, specifically in the past two years. Currently, based on Uefa's club coefficients, the men from Old Trafford are the fifth-best team on the continent. In 2011-12, however, their ranking points were only good enough for 29th place on the list of competing teams in Europe due to a group-stage exit. This season they are 15th in the list but they still cash in from their run to the final in 2010-11. Despite finishing runners-up that year they still managed to earn more coefficient points than winners Barcelona.
That 'historic' competition coefficient metric skews the draw in favour of these kinds of behemoths. Teams like United are able to withstand continental aberrations for a season or two because they have coefficient credit accumulated. At the other end of the spectrum the likes of Dortmund still struggle for relevance within Uefa's system despite their recent maturation.
In comparison with other sports the situation is ludicrous. The quickest driver in qualification takes pole for a Grand Prix in Formula 1 but his drive the five races previous have, rightly, no bearing.
Dortmund have kicked against the pricks this season like no other team in a decade. They have cut through a system that wouldn't normally permit, or more accurately, facilitate their presence late on in the competition. The tools used by Uefa usually ensure that the supporting cast is shrugged off long before the main protagonists have their say.
BVB may boast some of Europe's finest young players - the likes of Mats Hummels, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski are now household names - but Dortmund, owing to their place in the bottom eight teams in the competition, have had to negotiate some precarious pitfalls to take their place alongside Real Madrid in the semi-finals.
That's the same Real Madrid, by the way, who were defeated 4-1 in the first leg but who occupy a Pot 1 slot.
German champions twice in a row, Dortmund are nonetheless still hampered by their recent lack of European competitiveness. Their standing will improve over the coming seasons and in this campaign Jurgen Klopp's side have not only placed themselves again among the heavyweight European teams, they have become one anew.