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The Libero - Play-offs would cheapen the Champions League

Published: 17 Feb 2010 - 07:40:23

A newspaper report earlier this week claimed that the Premier League is considering introducing a play-off system to determine which team claims the fourth and final Champions League berth.

The idea behind the proposal is to make life more interesting for those outside the Big Four, who apparently have no hope of breaking the four-pronged stranglehold at the top of the table on their own.

That may well be the case - with Liverpool now seemingly over their poor early season form and having recently reclaimed fourth spot, there is yet again a familiar air to the table and another year of Big Four domination is on the cards, despite plenty of hype to the contrary.

- Play-off for fourth CL place proposed

But it is nevertheless slightly unnerving to hear the Premier League effectively admit that cartel at the top of the table is impenetrable, and that the only way to break it up is to shift the goalposts.

It's easy to see why the Premier League is intent on a creating a championship with more real contenders - more meaningful games equals more excitement equals more interest equals higher revenues for the fat cats.

But where is the justice in a team slogging through a long hard season to reach fourth place, only to be, say, reduced to 10 men after a poor refereeing decision and go on to lose a play-off match?

A season's work could be undone in one game. Cup competitions serve that purpose instead. That's why we love the FA Cup so much - the element of surprise, the one-off matches, the giant killings, the upsets, the possibility of anything happening over a period of 90 minutes.

But a league is a league, a competition in which the best teams - the teams who have performed at a higher level on average over the course of a season - are rewarded at the end of the campaign.

The possibility that a team could finish seventh and still qualify to play in the Champions League seems ludicrous. That teams aim for a fourth-place finish is bizarre enough - that doesn't even warrant a bronze medal in other sports - so where is the sporting glory in pipping your rivals to seventh?

Regardless of what it would mean financially, it seems a rather dubious 'honour'. And what of the Champions League itself, a competition that has already been devalued to some extent by the admission of non-champions.

The potential arrival of slightly-better-than-mid-table teams would surely take yet more of the glamour away from a tournament that started out life as an exclusive, high-end competition.

Should the idea take off and be rolled out across Europe, just take a look at who could conceivably being playing Champions League football in the near future - the likes of Palermo, Cagliari, Eintracht Frankfurt, Mainz, Hoffenheim, Getafe, Rennes, Lorient and Valenciennes.

It is certainly a romantic notion, but not one with a place in the Champions League. Unless of course they rename it the European Free-For-All Cup.

But for the time being, there is always the Europa League for the Cagliaris of this world, at least until they get better, move up the league table and fully merit a shot in Europe's premier club competition.

READ THE LIBERO EXCLUSIVELY AT FOOTBALL.CO.UK EVERY WEDNESDAY

DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.

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