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. The decision will be made following months of discussions between the European Club Association (ECA) and UEFA officials. The reason for the potential switch, which would be implemented beginning in 2015, comes down to the fact that the Europa League garners far less income and media attention than its big brother.
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.
The new rule would mean that if a club wins the Europa League and is outside of the top four spots typically allocated for Champions League places, that club will be given a berth to the Champions League meaning five teams from that country would feature in Europe’s biggest tournament.
This would be a significant departure from the current rules that limit a country to four participants. By implementing such a rule UEFA would avoid what happened to Tottenham in 2011-12 where Chelsea won the Champions League but because the Blues finished 5th in the Premier League, 4th place Spurs were demoted to the Europa League.
Here are the pertinent details:
- From 2015/16, winners of the Europa League and the Champions League will both qualify for the following season’s Champions League.
- A maximum of five clubs per league can make the Champions League, but only under special circumstances (i.e. when a club wins the Champions League or Europa League but finishes outside the top four in the domestic league)
- If the Champions League or Europa League winners finish inside the top four of their domestic league, runners-up will not qualify.
- Europa League winners will enter into the group phase of the Champions League, effectively ahead of the fourth place finisher of the domestic league.
The rule change should have a dramatic effect.
First, the added prize will make clubs take the Europa League more seriously. This will be especially true for clubs playing in the Champions League who finish third in the group phase and drop down to the Europa League.
Second, it will encourage greater participation in the Europa League. For example, the new rule will erase the possibility that clubs qualifying for the Europa League via the fair play rule will deny the opportunity (as was Liverpool’s position this season).
Third, the ruling gives smaller clubs more hope at making the Champions League. For example, if the ruling were to be implemented next season, Swansea and Wigan would both have a chance at making it into Europe’s biggest tournament. Following up on this line of thought, the new rule also raises the importance of domestic tournaments like the League Cup and FA Cup, as they provide an alternative pathway to the Champions League.
What are your thoughts?