Are play-offs for a Champions League place a good idea?

News has emerged that the Premier League is considering a play-off system for the fourth Champions League place. This is a fascinating idea for those who want to see a break up of a ‘top four’ which has been formed on the back of Champions League participation.

The idea is to have the 4th to 7th placed teams in the league play off for the final Champions League place. This is the one that currently requires playing a qualifier to gain entry to the group stages.

There are a number of issues raised by the idea and it’s worth spelling them out:

How would it work?

This is yet to be decided, but the sensible method would be that employed by the Football League. The 4th and 5th placed teams could play the 7th and 6th respectively over two legs, with the higher placed teams having home advantage for the second leg. The final could then be played at Wembley.

Would Wembley want another play-off final?

You bet they would. With the cost of building the stadium to be paid off, they’re desperate for revenue generating fixtures. That’s why the FA Cup semi-finals are played there.

What about the Europa League places?

At present few in the Premier League really care about the Europa League. Personally I’d rather have good runs in the domestic cups which have the extra excitement of single legs and less seedings. However that’s a separate issue. It would make sense to give the losing finalist the Europa League place. If there’s two Europa League places up for grabs then there could be a Wembley play-off between the other two teams (a third place play off in effect). The only problem with that would be maintaining supporter enthusiasm. Who knows, maybe the Europa League will be turned into something attractive in the next few years.

When would it happen?

It could only come into place after the new TV deal has run it’s course in three years time. By this time, Platini’s plans to limit club spending would be in place. These rules will greatly reduce the chance of clubs outside the top four breaking in, as they would likely be banned from spending the same amount as those already in the Champions League. In this respect the play-offs could arrive just in time to save the competitive nature of the Premier League.

Are the benefits of Champions League football that great?

Yes, Uefa have just tried to play down the financial divide that is created by the Champions League in claiming it’s revenue “represents a small part, 8–13%, of Manchester United’s, Chelsea’s, Arsenal’s and Liverpool’s total turnover“. This is misleading as clubs participating in the Champions League are able to raise their global profile, thereby attracting more fans and higher paying sponsors. As City have found out, top players won’t join a club they don’t believe can get into the Champions League. Opening up access to the Champions League, may make better players more attainable for a wider number of teams. The benefits of Champions League football are huge.

Would clubs cope with the extra fixtures?

These games would be guaranteed sell-outs with large TV interest. With that amount of bonus revenue, clubs will find a way of coping with the extra fixtures. It need only be a maximum of three games each, however it could cause a headache for a team also involved in other cup finals.

Shouldn’t the Champions League be just for the Champions, rather than the 7th placed team?

Get real, the Champions League has long since stopped being just for Champions, and is never going to go back. Champions League is just a brand name – it’s not for Champions and it’s not a league. Liverpool have won it without ever being Premier League champions and also qualified after having finished 5th. The 7th placed team are unlikely to win the competition, but the point is giving other teams the chance of competing in what is in effect a European super league.

Will it inject some competition into the Premier League?

This is the biggest advantage for supporters. Liverpool are only being challenged this season thanks, in part, to the spending of Sheikh Mansour and Randy Lerner. If Platini bans this kind of spending while increasing the popularity of the Champions League, then it could become nigh on impossible to break into the top four. Richard Scudamore knows this and that’s why he’s against Platini’s proposals. It can be argued that making the Premier League less competitive would be a good thing for Platini – it would make the Champions League more attractive by comparison, and lessen the wealth of English clubs as the Premier League’s global following diminished.

Will English clubs be less successful as a result?

Some have suggested that having a lower placed team in the Champions League would reduce the quality of the English entry. Well maybe a little, but there’s still the top three in there, and it would surely be better than having the same four entrants year after year.

What if English clubs lose a Champions League place?

England only has four Champions League places on account of the success it’s teams have enjoyed in recent years. If this diminishes, then a Champions League place could disappear. The Premier League would then have to decide whether to scrap the play-offs or offer them for the 3rd to 6th placed teams.

What about the 39th game?

That idea may have to be sacrificed, but given it’s controversy, that’s hardly a drawback.

What are the chances of it happening?

Apparently the ‘big four’ are against it – maybe they don’t like the idea of a threat to their quadopoly – but the rest of the Premier League seem in favour. Changes to the Premier League require a majority vote of 14 out of the 20 clubs, therefore it could be a goer! In addition, Uefa don’t play a role in how European places are allocated within a country. They simply allocate the number of European places available based on their co-efficients.

Will play-offs be popular with traditionalists?

Not a chance, a play-off is clearly unfair on a fourth placed side finishing with much higher points than the team finishing 7th. Yet no-one can deny the excitement that play-offs generate. No City fan who was there will ever forget Gillingham ’99. Club owners will have pound signs in their eyes, but there is also a bonus for supporters in having less dead rubber games at the end of a season.

Would it be good for City?

There’s no doubt that Sheikh Mansour is intending City to be in the Champions League regardless. However if Platini’s new spending limits adversely affect City, then it could be useful. It’s still to early to say that Sheikh Mansour is sure to turn us into a routine top three side. Funnily enough, if it were in place this season we would currently be a lot more relaxed and gearing up for the play-offs to come.


Play-offs for a Champions League place may not have the all or nothing excitement of the Football League play-offs, but they could liven up the end of the season. It would be another nail in football’s coffin for the traditionalists, and mean more razzmatazz for the Premier League that loves itself.

The real issue is keeping the Premier League competitive if Platini gets his way and limits the spending of clubs wanting to play in Uefa competitions. In such a scenario, the play-offs may be essential otherwise it could be a procession for the same top four clubs year after year. Even if City were one of them, that would make Premier League fixtures a lot less exciting.

  • What’s your view on introducing play-offs to the Premier League?
Preview: Stoke City v Manchester City
Verdict: Stoke City 1 Manchester City 1


  1. Yet another idea to give the current Top 4 as much chance as possible of keeping it that way – if Liverpool miss out they’ve still got a chance. How does Platini think anyone is going to break into it without money? Will the best players be willing to play for non-CL clubs unless they are well paid? Only the most romantic of partizans will think otherwise.

    If you want to mess with it, play-off 5th to 8th for the UEFA Cup. Better still put the FA Cup winners in the CL to give it back some importance. 28,000 for a 5th round match?

    • I read that the idea of giving the FA Cup winners a Champions League place has been mooted, but the Premier League clubs were against it, so it’s a non-starter. Naturally the FA would have liked the idea as they seek to boost the attraction of the FA Cup.

  2. personally I dont like the idea as it devalues the champions league. how is 7th a champion?

    also bear in mind that the playoff winner only wins the right to go into the champions league playoff spot and not into the group stage

  3. This seems to me a great idea! Maybe being a City fan, I would be expected to be in favour of it, but then I think our owners’ ambitions are above these play-off places anyway. ‘Gooner’ you ask how is 7th a champion? How is 2nd, 3rd or 4th a champion? Don’t be fooled by the name of the competition, it’s far from a league of champions anymore.

    To say this is a way of giving the top 4 an extra chance in case they don’t finish in the top 4 – surely it’s the opposite. It gives the chasing pack more of a chance to break up the top 4! It is the financial benefits of the CL that created and cements the divide between the top 4 and the rest. Giving another club the opportunity to gain the financial rewards and of course, the platform to attracting the best players is exactly what we need. It’s at least worth trying for a season.

  4. @Cityfan2513 – indeed, 2nd 3rd and 4th are not champions, but how will you feel if City finish 4th and then lost a CL playoff to, lets say Burnley who finish 12 points below you?

    The idea of the champions league is it represents the best teams in europe. In UEFA’s quest for more money it has already been devalued with the introduction of minor leagues from around europe. I know it sounds elitist but how is the potential of a tie between Total Network Solutions and Barcalona a mouth watering tie?

    As an Arsenal fan I would have to say that if we failed to reach 4th spot then we wouldn’t deserve a CL place.

  5. I agree that this would result in the competition having a slightly lower quality of teams in it, but something needs to be done to stop the status quo. The vast differences that exist are down to the financial rewards of getting into the competition. The likes of Milan, Madrid, Barca, United etc, will always be there because they are huge clubs. The way it’s going the hopefuls of making it onto the big stage will always remain just hopefuls. At the end of the day, if a team is good enough to finish fourth, then they ought to be good enough to beat their competition in the playoffs anyway. If they fall short in the play-offs, there can be no complaints. If they wanted automatic qualification it was there own fault for not finishing 3rd.

    The World Cup is a fantastic competition that has favourites, possibles and no-hopers. Barring a few suprises, you generally get the usual suspects in the quarters/semis. Having teams in there that are far weaker than others doesn’t devalue the competition, it’s natural. They earnt the right to be their by suprising everyone in qualifying, just as Burnley would earn the right to be in the CL if they finished 7th and went and beat Man City and Arsenal in the play-offs.

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