Champions League Play-Offs – The Debate

A proposal to determine the fourth Champions League spot via a play-off competition was presented at a Premier League meeting earlier this month.

Instead of the top four teams qualifying for the Champions League each season, it states the top three will qualify leaving the teams finishing fourth to seventh to battle it out for the final place. So could the introduction of a play-off increase competition and reduce predictability, or could it backfire spectacularly? 

Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool have occupied the top four positions in the Premier League for five of the last six seasons and I’m sure they will be keen to dismiss this idea in less time than it took Fabio Capello to remove John Terry’s captain’s armband. The Champions League brings in television revenue and sponsorship money that cannot be rivalled by the Europa League or FA Cup. This enables the so called ‘big four’ to have larger squads than other teams in the Premier League and pay higher salaries to attract top class players, thus increasing their chances of remaining in the top four the following season. 

As Champions League regulars, Chelsea, United, Arsenal and Liverpool have a lot to lose from this proposal, but don’t the other 16 Premier League teams have a lot to gain? Take Fulham for example. Under the current structure their only route into the Champions League would be a top-four finish. However, under the play-off proposal Roy Hodgson’s men need only finish seventh and win the play-offs and this strikes me as a far more realistic possibility. But if the thought of seeing Real Madrid or AC Milan at Craven Cottage sounds a bit romantic, then perhaps we should remove the rose-tinted spectacles lingering from Sunday and be a bit more pragmatic.

Is guessing the top seven teams in the Premier League really that much harder than predicting the top four? I cannot see anyone beyond Manchester City, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Everton or Fulham joining the aforementioned Chelsea, United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Will a play-off system really increase the chances of Hull, Burnley or Wolves qualifying for the Champions League? Mathematically, yes. Realistically, no.

But supposing the chasing pack or even an unexpected team like Birmingham wins the play-offs and qualifies for the Champions League. Then what? Do they spend millions of pounds they don’t have in a gamble to establish themselves as one of Europe’s top teams? Do other teams see their achievement and spend money they can’t afford in trying to repeat their success? Nobody wants to see the demise of another Leeds United, but follow the story to its logical conclusion and that is the likely outcome.

And what of the UEFA co-efficient tables that determine how many English teams qualify for the Champions League each year? To cut a long story short, places are determined by performances in Europe over a period of five seasons. So if teams qualify for the Champions League but fail to progress beyond the qualifying stages our ratings will decrease, while the countries progressing at our expense see theirs increase. In just a matter of years the number of English teams qualifying for the Champions League could be reduced to three – leaving us with a defunct play-off competition and a ‘not so big three’.

Back to the drawing board boys!

Arsene Wenger and David Moyes have also criticised the proposal for being unfair to the league.

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