The Antagonist - League football is not fast food
Published: 19 Feb 2010 - 06:53:11
At a time when most Premier League managers are complaining that they play too many games in a season, an opinion that I am sure is shared by Fabio Capello, a coterie of Premier League Chairmen and Chief Executives are now proposing that we have a play-off for the fourth Champions League place at the end of the season.
Apparently, this is likely to involve the fourth to seventh place teams in one-off semi-finals and then a Wembley final to decide who claims the coveted reward of entering the Champions League via the side door of the qualifying round.
The appeal of play-offs is undeniable. It introduces a cup tie atmosphere as a contrast to the weekly grind of the league programme, raises yet more revenue from gate money and television, and , in this case, is perhaps a cynical way of breaking down the traditional dominance of the 'big four' by allowing the next tier of teams a second chance in a win-at-all-costs game to grasp at the holy grail of European football.
The obvious disadvantages of these proposed play-offs, are the the increased demands on the already often burnt out players and, more importantly, that we won't necessarily have the four best teams from this country representing us in the most prestigious club competition in the world.
As we all know, freak results occur in the league throughout the year but these are ironed out over a thirty eight match season.
This is exemplified by the fact that Man Utd lost 1-0 at home to Burnley in August but now, two thirds of the way through the season, they stand 17 places and 34 points above them in the league, the former making their final surge for another league title while the latter are scrapping desperately to stay afloat in the top tier.
Imagine the entirely plausible situation where the fourth-placed team finishes with, say, 66 points and the next team is ten or more points behind.
That fourth placed team has proved, over the course of the season, that it is considerably superior to its rival but could easily, in a one off match lose out to an overall inferior side.
Surely, that's what we have the FA Cup for. To provide the shock and excitement of an underdog triumphing over the favourite. The David and Goliath syndrome should not have a place in deciding league places which are, by definition, an indication of a whole season's endeavour.
I know it happens in the lower leagues and has even spread to the oval ball game but, in my opinion, to take it into the Premier League would be a step too far. The stakes of Champions League qualification are too high to trivialise it in a mini knockout competition.
The league season is often described as a marathon rather than a sprint.If we continue the athletics analogy, it would be rather like asking the lower placed athletes in an Olympic marathon event to have a run off over one lap to decide the bronze medal position.
In this adrenalin junkie, value-added age it was only a matter of time before someone conjured up the prospect of extending an already over congested season and sought out new ways of further milking the appetite of an already captive audience.
Sport is becoming like fast food. It increasingly offers instant gratification (witness Twenty 20 cricket) and continually seeks out more extreme flavours to keep our taste buds stimulated.
No one would deny that from time to time change is healthy, beneficial (once again Twenty 20 cricket) and, sometimes necessary, but, at the same time, we have to preserve the traditions and formats that work, are fair and have made our league the best in Europe.
Unfortunately, if it goes to a vote amongst Premier League clubs, the understandable self interest of the majority of the clubs, who would have more to gain by voting it in than rejecting it, is likely to see the play-offs happening sooner rather than later.
If it happens, just imagine the irony of the situation if one of the fringe clubs at the moment such as Man City or Spurs, actually finishes fourth and then loses out to Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea or Arsenal in the play offs!
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