I was originally writing this post a couple of days ago under the title “Should more emphasis be placed on the FA Cup?” but, obviously this was before I heard about the proposals to introduce a play-off system to determine the fourth club to qualify for the following season’s Champions League. Therefore I have now decided to incorporate my thoughts into one post.
From what I understand this play-off would be very similar to the play-offs in the Football League whereby fourth plays seventh and fifth plays sixth. The idea has already been supported enthusiastically by all clubs, all clubs, except the so-called big four that is, but I believe that is only a natural instinct for them to react in that way because they rely on Champions League qualification year after year and if that was to be broken up they would no longer continue to prosper.
Obviously there will be many teething problems with trying to implement something as high calibre as this because the season calendar is already very crowded. So, in regards to practicality it does not work right away, also under the terms of the Premier League’s current TV deal the idea would not be introduced for at least three years.
This sort of plan has been tried and tested in the Dutch league. They did a similar play-off system for the second Champions League qualification place but abandoned it after the 2007-08 season, when FC Twente beat Ajax 2-1. The problems which occurred in Holland were a risk of crowd trouble at such high-stakes matches and a perception that the play-offs were one-sided. In regards to the Premier League there would not be a stumbling block like this; in fact it would make things more competitive.
Instead of fourth place the balance would again be readdressed and more emphasis would be on reaching the safety of third instead to be guaranteed a spot in the following seasons Champions League. It also gives rise to clubs like Fulham and Aston Villa, who last season finished 6th and 7th respectively a chance at playing against some of Europe’s elite. On flip side, in having teams as low as seventh been given a chance to qualify is diluting the idea of the “Champions” League. A competition which began with first placed teams, then second, third, fourth and now seventh.
To be implemented the Premier League would need a necessary 14-6 majority vote, which I think they would have no problem in achieving. The stumbling blocks will obviously be the big four, other than that I can’t see many clubs rejecting it.
The second part of my post focuses on the FA Cup, but it also ties in with the Champions League. Many questions have been raised time and time again this year about how the romance of the cup is dead, this is coupled with ailing attendances – in particular ties involving Premier League clubs. For example, the third round tie between Wigan and Hull at DW Stadium saw paltry 5,335 turn out.
The FA Cup is a prestigious competition but in recent years clubs have been more focused on the league or on Europe which is why the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool field weakened teams for the cup.
My suggestion for the cup is that instead of the winners qualifying for the Europa League, which really is second fiddle to the main competition, they would qualify for the Champions League. Ideally, this will not happen now that these play-off proposals have been made but I think something will have to be done in order to protect the world’s oldest club competition.
An interesting view that I read over on TFT, which came from VillaTalk.com is that all the problems of the Europa League, League Cup and FA Cup can be solved in one fowl swoop; the idea is that you have an end-of season play-off which would feature the fourth- and fifth-placed teams of the Premier League and the winners of the League Cup and FA Cup. The eventual winner goes on to play in the Champions League. Simple? No. As Chris on TFT said the complications would be when one or both of those competitions are won by a top three club, which nine times out of ten would be correct.
Change is a coming. And if it can manage to break up the big four then it can’t come quick enough. In the pre-season a lot was talked about this coveted fourth place, but as it stands nothing has really changed it is still Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool with Man City, Tottenham and Aston Villa hanging on to their coattails.
The play-off idea is a smart one, but will it really change anything?
It’s over to you, post your thoughts below. Are you in favour of play-off system being implemented?