Germany sit atop world football after winning the World Cup in Brazil and also find themselves at the summit of the FIFA rankings. However, a closer examination of the FIFA ranking system exposes major flaws.
One just needs to look at Switzerland and Greece, whom, with all due respect, are greatly flattered by their 9th and 13th ranks respectively. Furthermore, England, who sat in 10th, prior to the World Cup, plummeted to 20th, while Venezuela, who didn’t make the trip to Brazil, gained 10 places, moving to 30th overall.
As it stands the FIFA ranking are compiled using four categories which are: Match Result (M), Match Importance (I), Opposing Team Strength (T) and Confederation Strength (C). These figures are multiplied to give the final points per game (P). This system is then carried over a four-year period. The most recent year is weighted at 100%, the second twelvemonths are weighted at 50% with the subsequent two years being weighted at 30% and 20% respectively.
This system is far too vague. The blanket, one-fits-all manner that FIFA implemented is atrocious. Each of the four categories need drastic altering so that a more realistic ranking system is devised.
Match Result (M)
As it stands FIFA award three points for a win inside of 120 minutes and two points for a win that requires a penalty shootout. A draw or a loss on penalties amasses one point while a loss gains nothing.
This point system seem sensible to an extent, but the system is not specific enough. It does not inherit the intricacies and nuances that the game offers from match to match. Should a 1-0 win in extra-time earn the same number of points as that of a 5-0 dismantling. The Netherlands’ 5-1 win over Spain garnered the same merit in FIFA’s eyes as that of Nigeria’s 1-0 victory over Bosnia Herzegovina.
Additional points should also be earned based on the manner in which the victory or draw was achieved. For example Germany’s 7-1 demolition of Brazil – who were at home to boot – should outweigh a 1-0 or 2-1 victory.
A point system should be introduced based on the number of goals scored. The system should begin at 1.1 for the opening goal a country scores and should increase one-tenth of an increment for every goal thereafter. IE a single goal earns a team 1.1 points, while two goals collects 1.2 points and so forth. This would ensure a team is rewarded for their plundering of the opposition’s net.
A clean sheet should also be rewarded. A score of 210 (the number of ranked countries) should be granted for a clean sheet minus the FIFA rank of the team it was achieved against. IE: A clean sheet kept against Germany would be calculated as 210 minus 1 (Germany are ranked No.1) and result in 209 points earned, whereas a clean sheet acquired against Andorra would be formulated as 210 minus 198 (they sit 198th) and lead to a points score of 12. Clearly the principle here is a clean sheet against Germany is much harder to come by than one against Andorra.
Match Importance (I)
Currently FIFA only have two weights in this category: friendly – which is worth a total of 1, and a competitive game is worth 2.5, 3 or 4 depending on which tournament it is in. The friendlies’ weighting is fine; however it is absolutely absurd to think that the governing body of football believe that every competitive game within a tournament is the same. Based on FIFA’s logic the World Cup Final holds the same weight (4) as one of the World Cup group games. Germany actually earned more ranking points from beating Brazil in the semi-finals than defeating Argentina in the World Cup final. Worse still the Confederations Cup has the same weight attached to it (3) as all the Continental Cups. This means that the European Championship and the Confederations Cup hold the same weight, despite the European Championship clearly having greater prestige. Mind-boggling stuff!
The simple weighting system should be: friendlies equate to 1 point, the Confederations Cup group stages get 2 points, while the knockout games of the tournament get 2.5. The same principle would apply to each of the continental cups but with the weight of 3 and 3.5, while the World Cup – the granddaddy of them all – gets a weight of 4 per group stage game and 4.5 per knockout game. This improved system would ensure that there is no longer a universal importance among all games within a tournament as this principle does not hold true in reality. To think that the Germany vs Argentina World Cup Final held the same ‘importance’ as the Nigeria vs Iran group stage tie is just ludicrous.
Opponent Strength (T)
FIFA, in their infinite wisdom, devised a deliciously simple way to calculate the strength of each team. The system requires taking the team’s world ranking and subtracting it from 200 to give the figure of the nations’ strength. The only exception is that any country ranked 150th and lower are automatically given a strength of 50. Based on this ‘dynamic’ system second-ranked Argentina offer teams a strength of 198, while Switzerland and Greece offer opponents the strength score of 191 and 187 respectively – which is great if your nation is to contest Switzerland or Greece in the near future; not so much if you’re playing the likes of Argentina or 3rd ranked Netherlands.
The simplicity of this system is borderline criminal. However, there is an even simpler means to calculate the strength of teams; one which is a truer form of strength and also works to break the FIFA ranking anomaly of average teams skyrocketing to unrealistic heights. Every team has total points figure which is used to determine their overall rank. This figure should be used as the figure of strength for each country.
The first benefit of using the FIFA points is it works as a better method of differentiating the gulf in class among teams. i.e. Germany, instead of being just 8 points off Switzerland, under the improved setup would be 508 points stronger. Germany’s new strength reading would be 1,000 points greater than 29th ranked Sweden as opposed to the current difference which is just a mere 28 points.
The second improvement stems from the teams that are punching above their weight when it comes to their position in the FIFA ranking. Take Greece: they have only won two games from their last ten matches, but because the FIFA strength model offers such a small figure in terms of strength, teams have been offered little remuneration from beating or holding Greece to draws.
Under the new proposal Greece would cough up over 1,000 points to every team that they fail to beat – therefore teams who have outreached themselves, in terms of FIFA rank, would find it harder to remain in a lofty position if they fail to secure successive victories.
Confederation Strength (C)
This is arguably the most contrived of all the categories that FIFA use. The logic behind this category is senseless. To FIFA’s credit they offered different weights to each confederation. Presently Europe and South America are the strongest weighted with 1 point. North and Central America follow with a strength of 0.88, while Asia and Africa are weighted at 0.86 with Oceania sitting as the weakest at 0.85.
The first thing to note is that the strongest team in the Oceania – New Zealand – is a much easier task than the likes of Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa or the Ivory Coast, yet taking down New Zealand compared to a top African nations results in a diminished value of just 0.01. Furthermore all the above African nations mentioned, along with all the other nations outside of Europe and South America are considered less in terms of strength value to that of Armenia, The Faroe Islands, or Andorra. FIFA at its finest once again.
The most intelligent way to place a value on each nation within a given confederation is by using the seeding by which each of the teams are assigned prior to their respective continental tournament. The top seeded pot would be given the strongest value, naturally, and then the values decrease by 0.05 of a point as the seed pots decrease. This would bring some structural logic to the values. Germany and the Netherlands would be offering a superior weight to that of say Ireland and, even greater still, the likes of Malta and Cyprus. This tiered system would then be used across all of the confederations.
The final addition that would be added to the FIFA ranking system would be a points bonus for each nation that qualifies for their respective Confederation’s Cup, as well as for the World Cup.
Honduras may not be the best team in the world, but they did their country a great service by making the World Cup. However, by losing all three games they received no points for their partaking in the festivities in Brazil. Again these bonuses would be weighted differently for each confederation; as it is harder for European and South American countries to qualify based on the talent pool and in some cases just the sheer volume of nations.
Honduras dropped seven positions in the FIFA ranks because they were not issued anything for the task of making the World Cup, while Hungary managed to leapfrog them in the standings despite not making the cut for the 2014 World Cup – or any major competition since 1986, for that matter.
It’s clear from the points mentioned above that the current FIFA ranking system is flawed and change is needed.
Craig Farrell, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Marcello Casal JR/ABr [CC-BY-3.0-br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons.