There’s an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I have no idea where it originated, and English teachers’ worst nightmare aside, it is generally an axiom to live by. With that in mind, we consider the news of rumors circulating about changes to the qualifying procedures for the Champions League for English Premier League teams. [ad#as2]
Currently, the top four sides in England qualify for Champions League play, with the top three going straight to the group stage and the fourth place team going into the final qualifying round to get into the group stage.
If reports are to be believed, the idea be kicked about is to continue to send the top three teams straight to the group stage, but to have a playoff amongst teams 4-7 to grab that fourth spot, conceivably seeing the 7th best team in England going to the Champions League. Even more intriguing for American fans of the sport, is the idea of replacing the ill-fated “39th game” idea, for the idea of playing these qualifying matches in other countries, with the United States clearly a frontrunner to be one of the nations involved.
As a fan, this part of the plan caused me to go from “No way” to “hmmmm…interesting.” Still, this is a complicated subject – while the proposed playoff would no doubt be some great football, very contentious and emotional for all involved, it could come with a price. Let’s look at the current table, which sees Tottenham and Aston Villa in 6th and 7th, respectively. If one of those two sides caught fire for a couple of weeks and grabbed that fourth spot, would English fans trust them to get through qualifying and then to get through the group stage? What if, say, Spurs win the little playoff, and then get eliminated in the UCL qualifying by a side from Scotland, or Turkey, or France, wherever – very believable if you’ve ever watched a match from Celtic Park or Istanbul. Then the following season, another 6th or 7th place team gets through, and suffers a similar fate. A couple of seasons like that, and the Premier League could face the prospect of seeing its coefficient ranking drop enough that only three teams get to represent the league in the Champions League, which would be a devastating blow.
Most everyone (the ‘Big Four’ excluded) would love to see some other clubs get their shot at Europe, but is this the way to do it? The idea of matches of this magnitude being moved out of England would no doubt enrage the clubs’ season ticket holders and local supporters – though it could be a dream come true for fans of the sport in the United States, Australia, the Far East, just to name a few of the proposed locations.
A Premier League spokesman recently said, “We look at all sorts of ideas and rarely make comment until we have decided something definitely.” We will no doubt all be waiting with bated breath.