Ger McCarthy believes clubs should get behind the controversial new play-off proposals.
News that the Premier League is considering a play-off system to decide the fourth Champions League qualifying spot suggests the monopoly held by the usual big four clubs in England is about to be broken.
The new proposal which was presented to English Premier League (EPL) clubs at the beginning of February was initially met with a positive response. Only four of the twenty EPL clubs voiced reservations about a play-off between the clubs finishing fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh in the league.
Those four dissenters were obviously Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool and who can blame them? England’s top four ranked clubs for the past number of seasons will not want this proposal to go through but are hampered by EPL governing rules which state a proposal can be passed if fourteen of the twenty participating clubs agree to it.
If the Premier League ended today, then the proposals for qualification for the fourth and final Champions League spot would mean Liverpool vs. Aston Villa and Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur over two legs and the winners of each semi-final would then play in a winner-take-all final (perhaps at Wembley) to see which club would accompany Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal into next season’s Champions League.
The advantages of such a proposal are obvious with increased TV revenue money for the Premier League being the first and most lucrative reason for having play-offs.
Can you imagine the world-wide TV audience that would tune in to see (for example) Liverpool vs. Manchester City fighting it out for a place in the Europe’s most prestigious soccer competition?
The additional TV revenue generated by such an exciting prospect of a Champions League Play-Off decider (can you imagine Sky Sports build-up) would also filter through to the other 18 clubs in the division, thus strengthening everyone’s finances. Any additional revenue that can be generated in the current economic climate would surely be welcomed by the likes of Portsmouth.
A chance to end the usual top four EPL clubs stranglehold on qualification for the Champions League is another good reason to introduce such play-offs. Giving the likes of Spurs, Aston Villa or even Birmingham City an outside chance of making it into Europe would have a huge affect on those club’s finances and future prospects. Most neutral fans would love to see an underdog or outsider getting into Europe if only to change the monotony of the same four always qualifying.
There are drawbacks to the proposal for a Champions League play-off system as well. For example, suppose all bar Aston Villa are assured their place in the play-offs with a couple of weeks still remaining in the Premier League season.
You can be certain that Man City, Spurs and Liverpool would take the opportunity to rest their star players until the play-offs came around – unlike Villa who would be forced to field their strongest line-up right until the end of the regular campaign to be assured of a play-off berth.
If Man City or Spurs were scheduled to play a relegation-threatened team in the final weeks and fielded their reserves while Aston Villa trounced another bottom three side then the outcry would be massive.
Fixture congestion is another issue that has long plagued the English Premier League. Most other top European leagues have fewer teams in their top flight divisions, meaning fewer games played in a season. Leagues such as the German Bundesliga and Spanish Primera Liga even give their clubs a winter break.
The introduction of a play-off system in England would only serve to add three additional fixtures on top of the current 38-game (plus various Cups) regular campaign. I doubt Fabio Cappello would take too kindly to some of his English International squad having to play extra games at season’s end and increasing the chance of injury. What would the affect be on some of his players in a World Cup season?
Any proposal to break the stranglehold of the top four EPL clubs domination in qualifying the Champions League should be welcomed.
I think the Premier League should at least try a play-off system for a minimum of two seasons and only assess the feedback / outcome after that. The chances are Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool will eventually join a European Super League in the future anyway so the opportunity to give sides outside the top four a chance to qualify for the continent’s most prestigious competition is a positive and intriguing one.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled Off Centre Circle, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork League junior footballer.