Stoke City in the Champions League. It Could Happen

by Michael Somerville

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Winning the FA or Carling Cup just doesn’t cut it anymore for mid-table Premier League teams.

After another season of the top four consisting of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, the Premier League is considering a widespread change. The powers that be are pondering a play-off system between the clubs finishing fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh and the proposal seems to have enough support to suggest it could gain the necessary 14-6 majority.

There are two particular motivations that have seen this taken into consideration; firstly it’s to crack the problem of England’s top league becoming too dominant in Europe. Consider- Liverpool vs AC Milan 2005, Arsenal vs Barcelona 2006,  Liverpool vs AC Milan 2007, Manchester United vs Chelsea 2008, Manchester United vs Barcelona 2009 and it’s fair to say that England’s top clubs are well travelled in top European finals this millennium. Secondly, the money that comes with qualifying for European football’s big prize undoubtedly sets apart the Arsenal’s and Chelsea’s from the likes of Tottenham, Villa, Everton and Fulham in the quest to be recognised worldwide clubs.

This change could give relatively small clubs a huge cash injection and help the Premier League to be more even and fair next season. UEFA’s TV and sponsorship earnings from the Champions League are up to an estimated £947m this season, and of that 75% (750.9m Euro) will be distributed to the participating clubs. A goldmine waits!

This play off scheme will most certainly inject some excitement into the ‘race for 7th’ but its timing is remarkably strange. With Liverpool struggling more than ever this year, is there really a need to give the likes of Villa, Tottenham and Everton an even bigger chance to fulfil their potential in world football? There is absolutely no guarantee that Liverpool or even Arsenal will finish in the top four this year, but lower down the football scale, the new play- off system will definitely guarantee a new found hunger in teams such as Stoke, Fulham, Wigan and Birmingham.

I am concerned though at the fact that the aforementioned clubs could be privy to a takeover, with greedy businessman rubbing their hands with glee at the idea of Wigan Athletic making them a quick buck or five. The owners could buy out a mid table with potential, wait until they finish 7th (surely not that difficult) and then sell it on when they reach the Champions League with the clubs and owners wallets positively bursting. It could lead to an even more pronounced looking and horrible short- term culture in football, one that we have already suffered under. The fans of Portsmouth and Notts County will tell you all about their owners, and not with the greatest affection I imagine.

Still… money money money is what makes the world go round and the playoff games will produce more bucks for The Premier League. There is still a recession on, and Richard Scudamore needs to pay his maintenance for his yacht. More play-off matches means more money- it’s as simple as that.

Since scrapping the national embarrassment ‘The 39th Game’   (I don’t think football supporters like the idea of matches in Dubai) Scudamore has leaned towards satisfying English clubs and supporters instead of his bronzed and more than affluent palls in the Far-East.

The new proposal will release the ‘nearly clubs’ from the snares of the ‘glass ceiling’ and will give their supporters more hope than ever before. One ‘outsider’ club has a chance to have a crack at the big time. Isn’t that good for football and for fairness? The real winners though are UEFA as the Champions League tightens its hold on football’s backdrop, TV schedules and imagination. The threat of the ominous G14 has gone and talk of a breakaway from UEFA by the European Club Association is now silent. UEFA seem to have complete control and they are most certainly wielding their power.

The new proposals point toward a new mild communism in football, but UEFA still win and win big.

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  • stevie

    it’s a great idea, and that’s coming from an Arsenal fan. It might make Wenger actually spend money!

  • dexylongshot

    Bring it on baby, it will make survival sunday even better than it already is with more teams trying to get into the top 7 with a real incentive rather than just the prospect of facing Europes UEFA cup minnows. The only negative i can think of is it’s an extra few games for the play-offs and final, how will this affect the 3 Lions in tournament years? Think if it was the totts, Villa, Liverpool and Everton vying for the 4th place, I’m sure Capello wouldn’t be happy, seeing half his England squad going into battle a fortnight before the world cup ship sets sail, especially if one of the teams were contesting for the FA cup as well a week earlier.

  • pin

    really good point about the potential england impact…last thing we want is people playing out of their skin just before the cup – our beloved british metatarsals will not be happy!

    if we really want to make thing spicy, how about the following as an alternate proposal:

    Only top 3 premership sides get champions league qualification from the league (1st and 2nd automatic, 3rd has to qualify), and then the 4th (2nd qualification) spot is awarded to the winner of the FA Cup…

    – would re-energise the FA Cup as the incentive to win would be bigger
    – would not increase the number of games played, or endanger england tournament prospects
    – can replace the FA Cup Europa League spot with the winner of the Carling Cup, making that competition more tempting as well
    – makes the Top 4 a Top 3, and with 5/6 genuine contenders now it would really add some heat to the premiership

    think of the potential for other clubs – palace and portsmouth will not win the league over an extended period, but both are on a cup run – could really give teams in trouble something to fight for…

    finally, how awesome would it be for total surprise psckage to put together a cup run and get into the Champion’s League!

    you could actually argue that it makes more sense for the cup winners to qualify rather than 4th place, as the cup winners are actually the champions of something!

  • dexylongshot

    PIN, that is fkin fantastic, excellent ideas, we should pass these onto the powers that be. It makes you think doesn’t it, the bigwigs at Wembley get payed 1000s a year and could’nt organise a piss-up in in a brewery and our humble little site comes up with such a good solution. Good work!

  • Michael Somerville

    Great idea’s all round guys- really like the Fa Cup integration idea! Did a piece on ideas in how to save the FA cup a bit earlier….

  • W.A.

    I’ve written a blog about the play-off idea too, which should be up on the site tomorrow. The debate on here about giving a Champions League spot to the FA Cup winners instead is a really interesting one – especially as, if the play-off idea went ahead, it would make it very hard for the FA Cup Final to generate as much interest as it does now. The play-offs would take place in the last few weeks of May, around the time of the Wembley showpiece. If the play-off final was held at Wembley too, would it not end up completely overshadowing the Cup Final?

  • stevie

    good point, not to mention injuries building up to major tournaments!

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