Should Europa League winners qualify for the Champions League?

May 13, 2010

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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

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The Europa League winner should qualify for the Champions League. It’ll will automatically enhance the Europa League.
Only the 4 best 3rd place teams from the Champions League group stages should join the Europa League Round of 32. This 4 along with the 12 group winners should be seeded. The 12 group runners up and 4 best 3rd placed teams of the EL group stages should be the unseeded teams for the Round of 32 draw.

UEFA should bring back the Intertoto Cup. It should be contested by 64 teams: the Europa League play-off losers (37), league champions not making round 3 of the Champions League play-offs (19 or 20 on any given year). To make up 64, wildcard places can be given to highest ranked EL qualifier round 3 losers. The Intertoto Cup winner can then qualify for the Europe League group stage of the following season.

UEFA should also have a Fair Play Cup. 8 fair play teams should contest this Cup over the summer month. It’ll have to straight knock-out, played on the same dates as the Europa League rounds 2, 3 and 4 qualifiers. The winner should then join the Intertoto Cup mentioned above.

All competitions mentioned will create a form of pyramid. Europa League play-off loses and lower nation league champions gain more European experience and path to Europa League.

Cup competitions all around Europe will gain an added boost. Any team qualifying for the Europa League can look upon it as an opportunity to make the Champions League. It’ll be a win win all round for UEFA.

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