Should Europa League winners qualify for the Champions League?
Rules and competition formats which apply to other sports can rarely be implemented in soccer but UEFA may want to have a look at the benefits of a European club basketball formula if it is to further improve the Europa League.
The winners of Eurocup, the continent’s second-tier club basketball competition, win a berth in the Euroleague — the equivalent of
football’s Champions League — and the move has had only a
positive effect in attendances and the overall quality of teams.
My colleague Brian Homewood has duly noted that the Europa
League has produced plenty of drama and full grounds across
Europe in its first season after replacing the old UEFA Cup.
But would Liverpool have fielded their best XI in the knockout stages if they hadn’t lost a realistic chance of finishing in the Premier League top four well before the closing stages of the season?
And could Fulham, for all their exploits on the road to the Europa League final, ever hope to play in the money-spinning Champions League given the current balance of power in English club football?
Giving the Europa League winners a Champions League berth would force the top teams in Europe’s lesser club competition to take it seriously from start to finish while it would also present unheralded clubs with a chance of moving up the ladder.
It would also give some of Europe’s fallen giants a second chance to stay in the top flight.
Former Champions League winners Liverpool and Juventus will both miss out on next season’s premier club competition in Europe because they failed to finish in the top four of their respective leagues.
Atletico Madrid, this season’s Europa League winners, are also a household name whose Champions League appearances have been few and far between in the past two decades.
Would a simple step forward, making the Europa League even more competitive, not add even more entertainment and glamour to a tournament which has lived up to expectations in its inaugural season?
PHOTO: Atletico Madrid’s players throw coach Quique Sanchez Flores in the air as they celebrate winning their Europa League final match against Fulham in Hamburg, May 12, 2010. REUTERS/Sergio Perez