Should the winners of the Europa League be awarded a spot in the following season’s Champions League?
That is the question that UEFA, Europe’s soccer governing body, will likely answer in the affirmative on Friday. European football chiefs are expected to confirm today that Europa League winners will earn Champions League qualification from 2015.
Uefa’s executive committee will meet in London ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund at Wembley, with changes to the continent’s second cup competition high on the agenda.
The reform would be a minor one, although potentially significant, as it could allow teams who go on good runs to test themselves at the biggest stage. Despite that, most of the list of recent Europa League winners features teams that would probably be more likely competing atChampions League level anyway - but there is an opportunity to encourage smaller clubs to take the competition more seriously. A look at England points to how this could make an effect -Tottenham Hotspur put more energy into the Premier League towards the end of their campaign, but suffered a Europa League exit and ended up with no Champions League spot at the end of the season. If this rule comes into place, they probably would prioritise the competition in order to compete the following year.
This is not the first time officials have tried to raise the Europa League’s profile. In 2009, UEFA decided to change the name of the tournament from UEFA Cup to its current title. Another measure designed to increase interest in Europe’s second tournament was to send teams that finish third in the Champions League group stage into the Europa League. Arguably, that measure has succeeded as this year’s final between Chelsea and Benfica, both of whom arrived via the Champions League, produced significant exposure.
"Discussions have taken place about the Europa League and some changes are needed for that competition," said UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino.
UEFA is hoping that giving the Europa Cup winner a spot into Champions League will boost interest in Europe's secondary club tournament - in terms of prize money, credibility, prestige, and media coverage over the last decade. The Europa League features many of Europe's leading clubs who missed out on Champions League but many clubs consider the tournament a consolation prize for teams that fail to qualify to Champions League.
Despite the presence of many of Europe's leading clubs who have missed out on the Champions League, the Europa League retains an aura of being a consolation prize for the also-rans. Although a central marketing concept was added to the competition when it was rebranded in 2009, matches are played on Thursdays and are often shown on non-peak viewing channels. They also generate a tiny percentage of income the Champions League can bring.
It is also anticipated that the block on nations, including England, having more than four clubs compete in the Champions League in the same season will be lifted. This would prevent a repeat of last season’s scenario which saw Tottenham finish fourth in the Premier League, but lose their Champions League place to competition winners Chelsea, despite the Blues finishing sixth in the table. This is certainly gonna encourage the likes of Tottenham, Swansea and Wigan, who will all play in next season’s competition, to take the competition more seriously than Premier league teams have in the past.
The changes may come into effect after the 2014-15 season, when the Champions League final will be played at the Olympiastadion in Berlin and the Europa League final will be staged at Warsaw’s National Stadium. In addition, Uefa has announced tough new rules to stamp out racism, plus new anti-doping measures.
General Secretary, Gianni Infantino, said: “We’re keen to do what we can to fight against the scourges of our sport: match-fixing, racism and doping.”
The first incident of “discriminatory behaviour” from fans will lead to partial closure of the stadium and the second offence, full closure. Racism by players or officials will result in a minimum 10-match ban. A new anti-doping research project has also been approved, which will see nearly 900 players face anonymous retrospective steroid testing, though no penalty will be imposed for violations. Instead, the results will lead to a decision on whether or not to implement biological profiling passports.