The pros and cons of Champions League play-offs
Monday saw plans revealed by Premier League officials to create a play-off system between teams placed fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. The prize for the winners: a spot in the following season’s Champions League.
The aim of such an innovative idea would be ‘to inject more competition into the league’. It proposes to fight the dominance of the so called ‘big four’ who annually reside at the summit of the table and enjoy a rite of passage into Europe.
The plans were discussed at a meeting on February 4, with the consensus that a more thorough investigation into the possibility of implementing such a format was needed. In principle it could work in the same fashion as the Championship play-offs.
It has been reported that all of the top flight’s clubs greeted the suggestion with ‘enthusiasm’ except for the perceived big four. This is, of course, unsurprising as they have clearly benefited from their participation amongst Europe’s elite, mainly in the form of television revenue.
But only 14 of the 20 teams would be needed to vote in favour of such a motion in order for it to become a reality. Therefore even without the votes of the Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, the procedure could come into practice.
The main touted benefit of this initiative is that it would lead to a more competitive league. It is an enthralling attempt by Richard Scudamore to loosen the stranglehold that the current quadruplet have on the summit of the League.
The perennial big four have earned the contempt of the other sixteen clubs. The classroom bullies of the league; they boast the best players and attain the next big superstars from their rivals; they have an enviable financial muscle and attract the support of fans worldwide.
In recent seasons we have seen Aston Villa, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur flirt with fourth place, but all have fallen agonisingly short at the final hurdle. Indeed Everton did qualify in 2005 but failed to overcome Villarreal in the final qualifying round.
English football is growing tired of seeing the same names in the Champions League year in, year out. This proposal could combat this growing unrest.
Not only would it keep the big four on their toes, it would provide real excitement as names such as Fulham and Birmingham City reap the rewards of a superb domestic campaign with the chance to represent English football in the top tier of European football.
It would also satisfy those seeking to revolutionise the Premier League: talk of a ’39th’ game, or matches being held in abroad, could be set aside. These set of games would provide extra excitement at the end of the season and allow supporters a memorable trip to Wembley.
Another argument in its favour would be the increase in revenue with regards to television rights. Money which would be spread out amongst the Premier League clubs.
The sceptics will argue that the fixture list is already crammed to capacity. Furthermore there have been suggestions it could devalue the league, with teams resting players for vital play-off games.
Instead of aiming for fourth place, the bar will have been lowered to seventh, making it easier for clubs to attain qualification to the Champions League. It could further diminish the importance of the FA Cup with teams concentrating on finishing in the top seven opposed to an extended cup run.
Additionally should, for example, Aston Villa claim the fourth sport ahead of Liverpool would it not strike as harsh punishment that after a fantastic season they would be forced to play a mini tournament and face surrendering the possibility of playing in the Champions League?
The traditionalists will scorn at the idea of a team placed seventh competing in the Champions League. After all, the European Cup was originally a competition exclusive to domestic title winners.
David Moyes adequately summarised the mixed feelings towards any such play-offs when interviewed yesterday.
“I always think your league position is judged over all the games and where you finish is where you finish, so to give a team that finishes three or four places down the table could be a little bit unfair.”
He added: “Nevertheless, the Championship play-offs for promotion into the Premier League have worked very well so it might be something worth looking at.”
“You have to make sure that you’re not tinkering too much. Before you know it, will finishing seventh or eighth be considered really good success? It shouldn’t do - it should be a good season but enough to maybe make you the fourth best team in England.”
So ultimately there are pros and cons to this proposal. It would undoubtedly add an extra dimension to the Premier League, but English fans proudly proclaim the English top flight to be ‘the best in the world’, so why tinker with a winning formula?