Premier League play-off plan could have legs
There have been some interesting things bobbing about in the Premier League think tank. "Game 39" might be semi-submerged now, but the contents have been given another stir and floating to the top, along with several others, has come Champions League fourth-place play-offs. Not a snappy title, but it might get a bit of traction.
Let's just add the health warning at this point. This is an idea, a discussion point, something for the clubs to consider. Nothing could be introduced for at least three years, because the TV deal's all mapped out. But it has been properly looked into, its possible implications modelled by statisticians and presented to the members.
The logic goes like this.
Four clubs - Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool - tend to dominate the four Champions League places allocated by Uefa to English teams. The huge amount of extra revenue (tens of millions) that comes into those clubs from Uefa for taking part tends to mean they have a financial advantage in the transfers and wages market. That in turn means they can afford the best players, which perpetuates their domination.
It is often argued that it's the Uefa cash that really skews the competitive balance in the Premier League. It has taken the seemingly limitless wealth of Manchester City's new owners to truly threaten the current hegemony. And as any Pompey fan will tell you, extraordinarily wealthy Arabs prepared to invest in football are few and far between.
What the clubs have been presented with is a vision of a new possibility. The suggestion seems to be that the top three would qualify as of right, with the fourth spot competed for in a separate knock-out competition.
The play-offs could offer more clubs the chance to play for the Champions League trophy
This might just mean a home and away joust between finishers four and five, but there are other permutations, too, perhaps involving those finishing sixth and seventh as well. Any changes would need the usual minimum of 14 clubs in favour before anything could happen.
It's not hard to imagine how this is going to go down with the chairmen. For the genuinely ambitious clubs like Aston Villa, Man City and Spurs, frustrated at banging their heads on a glass ceiling, it's going to be attractive.
One presumes such enthusiasm wont be matched at Arsenal and Liverpool, nor Manchester United or Chelsea, for whom the Champions League has become an integral and regular part of their season, relied upon in United's case in their long-term business plans.
A couple of seasons without Champions League football for Liverpool at the moment would be a huge financial blow. Yet the attraction for the upper mid-table outfits like Birmingham, Everton and Fulham is clear to see.
There's a benefit to the Premier League as well. It would tend to keep the competition more intense for longer towards the end of the season, as clubs slugged it out for places five to seven.
It would also achieve the league's apparent objective of more matches, which, of course, "Game 39" says rather clearly on its tin.
More matches means more revenue to share, so everyone's a winner? Well, maybe. Fabio Capello, or whoever's England manager in 2014, might not like the idea of some of his squad players involved in yet more fixtures at the end of the season in World Cup year. More opportunities to make money versus the risk of mashed metatarsals or a burned-out back four?
Then there's fixture congestion at the end of the season. Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup? Would this muscle-in on the precious TV opportunities for the lower league play-off games?
And what next? Play-offs for the relegation places?
The Premier League's executive team are on a mission to keep one step ahead of their opposition in La Liga and Serie A. They see it as their obligation to keep checking whether the wheel needs re-inventing. This could be an idea that has legs.....