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Premier League play-off idea just not fair

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Michael Gray | 08:15 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010

Hi, there's been a lot of talk about the possible introduction of play-offs in the Premier League to qualify for the fourth place in the Uefa Champions League but I must say that I don't like the idea.

The play-offs are well established in the Football League and I really don't think they should be introduced to the Premier League.

To me, it wouldn't be fair if your team played a full season of 38 games and finished fourth, but then had to play-off to qualify for the Champions League. I just don't think teams who finish outside the top four should have an opportunity to qualify for Europe's elite club competition.

There is a huge incentive for teams to finish in the top four and players work their socks off all season to get into that position. If a team were to finish fourth and then didn't qualify for the Champions League because they were eliminated in the play-offs it would be very hard to take.

The play-offs in the Football League have brought a very exciting dimension to the game and there have been some amazing matches. If you get promoted through the play-offs and get to lift a trophy at Wembley then it is a brilliant way to go up but there is always the chance for heartbreak too because the play-offs are a bit of a lottery.

Every game is a big one in the Premier League and I think if you achieve a top-four finish then you are entitled to qualify for the Champions League. The teams finishing fifth to seventh in the Premier League have the right to contest the Europa Cup, which is another big competition, whereas in the Championship you don't qualify for anything else by finishing in the top six.

You get the right to contest a place in the Premier League and the losers get nothing so that is a huge difference between the current set-up in the League and the proposals that have been put forward for the Premier League.

In qualifying for the Champions League you are earning the right to play against the top teams in Europe and some of the best players in the world so I think that it would be wrong to take that opportunity away from players who have worked so hard to finish in the top four.

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney scores against AC Milan during their Uefa Champions League (photo: AFP)

The Champions League throws up some huge games and we saw one of those earlier this week when Manchester United won 3-2 at AC Milan. It was an amazing game from the start and you could sense the atmosphere from watching it on TV. Even the build-up to the game was electrifying and the previews start three or four days before the match - they are major events in the sporting calendar. I had to record the game because we were playing against Doncaster Rovers but I watched the match when I got home and it was just incredible.

The Champions League has got bigger and bigger in recent years and I think that will only continue. The level of performance in all of the games is incredible and every match seems to be eye-catching.

I was lucky enough to be involved in a few Champions League matches when I was at Celtic so I have had a little taste of it. To be involved in those games is something special. To play for Celtic in that competition is something I will never forget - not just the home games but the away games as well. They had something different; there was a sense of being involved in something extra special. Other than playing for your country, playing in the Champions League has to stand out as a career high for me.

We played Anderlecht and won 3-1. As the team walked out at Celtic Park the atmosphere was immense. The atmosphere is always impressive at Celtic but walking out of that tunnel knowing you were going to be involved in a Champions League game produced an incredible mix of nerves and adrenaline. It was an unbelievable feeling and it brings the best out of everybody; not only the players but the fans, and the build-up in the days beforehand has a real sense of occasion too.

Personally, I am not that bothered about watching loads of football on TV every week. Dare I say it, I think there is probably too much football on now. We are probably going to get to the stage where you can watch your own team on TV every single week with the way things are heading. That may be a good thing for some fans but clubs could see a knock-on effect on crowds and nobody would want that.

I always look forward to watching the big games, like when Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool face each other. I guess that's why I love the Champions League too because they always seem to be huge games with the likes of AC Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona. I never want to miss those games. It's been great seeing the English teams getting into the latter stages of the Champions League too so that has made it even more intriguing. I also got to see Manchester United host Real Madrid at Old Trafford and it was something extra special to watch.

Back to life in the Football League, we are still embroiled in a relegation dogfight at Sheffield Wednesday. The Championship is a fascinating division this year. You can win one week and be looking up at the top half of the table. Then you can lose your next game and you're looking over your shoulder.

When Brian Laws was in charge at the beginning of the season we were within touching distance of the play-off places. Then we went on a terrible run when we struggled to score, let alone get a result, and quickly found ourselves in the bottom three. We fought our way out of that and we know that we will be scrapping until the end of the season. It was great to win five out of seven matches when Alan Irvine first came through the door and we don't want that to slip-up now because everybody is enjoying themselves and our fans have been fantastic.

In this situation you have to do your own jobs first and foremost. We know what our own targets are and how many wins we need for safety but sometimes you can't get away from looking at the league table and seeing how the teams around you are doing. If you tried to steer away from what is going on elsewhere in the division then one of your team-mates would tell you the results so you have to accept that. But our focus is on the job of getting results for Sheffield Wednesday. If we do that then there it doesn't matter what other teams do.


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