THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

{mosimage} 17 February ~ Earlier this week it emerged that the Premier League are considering adopting a play-off system for the fourth Champions League spot. Instead of the four highest-placed teams in the league qualifying for the competition, the top three would be joined by the winner of a play-off between the teams finishing between fourth and seventh. The proposal is being forwarded in the name of increasing competition for the league's top spots but, ironically, it could do the very opposite.

Take this season as an example. Three points currently separate Manchester City in fourth and Aston Villa in seventh. These two, along with Liverpool and Tottenham, are marooned in their own little battle, beyond the reach of eighth-placed Birmingham City – who are five points back – but too far behind Arsenal to challenge for third. There is no need for an end of season play-off for fourth place – it is currently taking place across 38 games. A play-off would compress the season into a couple of post-season cup ties, robbing it of any meaningful competitiveness and leaving the league with a series of pointless matches.

Beyond the silliness of awarding a team that finishes seventh in the league a place in the Champions League, reducing the season to a few games in May is inherently unfair. David Moyes, although in "slight favour" of the idea, has admitted as much: "I'm not sure if it's right that you work the whole season and finish seventh and that might get you in the Champions League."

With Everton one of the teams that could could benefit in future seasons, it is hardly surprising that Moyes's self-interest trumps his will to preserve the league format. Martin O'Neill is in the same position. While he recognises that "the team who finished fourth would be galled", O'Neill's chief concern is for his own club: "I wouldn't knock the play-off idea immediately, particularly if we finish seventh in the league."

The decision over the play-off will be made by the 20 Premier League clubs, with each voting on what suits them best. Although the idea seems to cheapen the league as a whole, it is appealing to most of the clubs involved. Put quite simply, it is easier to finish seventh than it is to finish fourth. For the clubs, any route to Champions League money is one worth considering. And the extra matches – or the Super Champs Mini-League, as Sky could call it – would help clubs service the debts they build up over the season.

When the Premier League owners next meet in April, a 14-6 majority will be required to push the idea through. While the play-off may give Sky another tournament to promote in May, they will have to work even harder to find Super Sundays worth getting excited about across the rest of the season.

Comments (4)
Comment by fieryelephant 2010-02-18 07:37:02

In terms of motivation for finishing fourth, they could seed the clubs so that 4th and 5th are at home for the play-offs. There's also the matter of prize money - half a million plus per place in the league.

Comment by irishreddevil 2010-02-18 10:52:53

The same system has been in place in Holland for a number of seasons, but it hasn't increased the competitiveness of representatives.

Comment by Johanna 2010-02-19 12:07:14

As a Preston fan I'm naturally against the whole idea of play-offs as I know very well that they only cause heartache and misery. Aside from this though I get bored with seeing the same teams playing each other all the time. As a neutral I groan inwardly when two Premiership teams draw each other in a cup because I'm sick of seeing the same teams pitted against each other season after season ad infinitum. A play-off would only increase this. And besides, our Premiership teams already have more games than most other European top flights, why give them more? Oh yes, and just as an aside, I also subscribe to the notion that the Champions league should do just as it says on the tin - feature the champions i.e. the team that came first.

Comment by ChrisJ 2010-02-20 10:08:58

"While the play-off may give Sky another tournament to promote in May, they will have to work even harder to find Super Sundays worth getting excited about across the rest of the season."

Nah, they'll just bang on about the 'battle to stay in the CL Playoff spots'. Looks like it has a decent chance of success to me; United and Chelsea won't care, the rest of the top 7 will see it as insurance, the next third as a lottery ticket. Villa might harbour reasonable ambitions of finishing fourth, but for clubs like Fulham or even Stoke (no offence) fourth is virtually inconceivable, whereas seventh... you just might...

It's a terrible idea, but when did that ever change anything? Of course there used to be an excellent, high-profile, high quality tournament for the clubs that didn't make the champion's cup. Whatever happened to the UEFA cup?

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