Monday, February 15, 2010

Big Four Monopoly To End? English Premier League Clubs To Vote On Proposed Champions League Playoffs in April

The monopoly that Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Chelsea have enjoyed for the last ten years looks set to end. The Premier League are considering the introduction of a playoff for the last Champions League place, meaning a team as low as 7th could play in Europe's foremost trophy...

Premier League sources have confirmed that the play-off system proposal was presented to all at the most recent meeting of EPL clubs, on 4 February. As with his mandate of Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore, now has until the next meeting in April to produce a proposal that would be acceptable to the teams of the EPL.

Under the proposal, a playoff would be played at the end of the season between the teams that finished 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th. The matches would take the form of two semi finals and a final, with the winner progressing towards the Champions League as reward.

One major obstacle that the likes of Liverpool and United will hope to exploit is the lack of fixture time between the end of the league season, the start of May, and the traditional end of the season, the FA Cup Final.

The proposal is still in it's infancy but with 16 teams backing the initial plan, it looks as if a solution should easily be found around the sticky situations of home and away legs, or seeding.

Or even God forbid if England's UEFA co-efficient should drop and only three, not four teams were eligible for Champions League football.

These topics will be picked over by Scudamore over the next month as he readies his proposal.
The move has been met with open arms by the vast majority of clubs plying their trade in England's upper echelon, with only four dissenting voices to be heard, those of Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea...The four clubs with the most to lose.

It is not known which chairman raised the issue but it is safe to say that he was not from one of the leagues top four teams. And only needing a majority of 14 it looks as if this proposal could be implemented by as early as next season.

The move was sparked by the aforementioned clubs domination of the the league since the Premier League's inception in 1992.

Since then debt has spiralled out of control in English football, but in the Premier League in particular.

As it stands the 20 teams in the EPL owe around £3 billion in debt, with £2 billion of that total being spread amongst the monopoly on top. Manchester United, famously in debt for £716m recently set up a £500m bond trust to push them further into debt.

Chelsea were smarter and used slight of hand to remove their £700m debt by giving Roman Abrahmovich sole ownership of the club, as owner the debt is now his, and as the Pensioners owed him the money in the first place the slate is wiped clean...

Liverpool came within hours of going under last summer only for RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) to baulk at the last moment and give them a one year reprieve. The Reds now have until June to find over £100m from a £290m debt.

The Gunners have been more spendthrift than their rivals but are still in debt to the region of £400m with a £25m mortgage to pay on the Emitates stadium for the next 24 years. This despite a recent £150m share issue that saw Bank of Ireland take on shares at the club to quash their debt.

Should other plans by Michel Platini come into fruition then Arsenal could be further plunged into debt as their property company Arsenal Holdings is struggling under the debt they accrued in the development of apartments at Highbury.

Meaning that the other £1billion is spread between the other 16 clubs. When you realise that newly promoted sides like Birmingham and Burnley are reletively debt free it shows that the leagues leading clubs have been allowed to exploit their stature by going further into debt and that the rest are playing an impossible game of catch up.

The fact that these four clubs are the only opposing faction speaks volumes of how this little clique see themselves as being above every other club. Their flat refusal to share the spoils of European football is pure indication that their monopoly is under threat and that the EPL are moving to breakup their strangle hold for the good of the game in England.

Ironically this latest move by the EPL comes as Manchester City enter the fray as the world's richest club and as such are insulated against giant debt. On top of that, Liverpool's traditional placing at the top of the EPL table is under threat from three different sources for the first time in decades.

The top fours opposition to the playoff system is obviously driven by self interest, but their argument that such vast rewards should not be given to a team as low as seventh do not wash as Liverpool themselves won the trophy whilst finishing in fifth place in the league. Add this to the fact that very few champions have actually won the Champion League and finishing seventh is no different than finishing fourth.

The proposal  will of course have massive implications for both the Carling and FA Cups and the relevant teams who have enjoyed their stay at the top of the league.

The two cups have already been devalued by almost every team in English football, attendances show that from the FA Premier League all the way down to League Two that gates have reduced for the cups by almost 20 percent since the 80's.

The new proposed playoff system means a further devaluation to the once great trophies, as EPL teams will now have very little incentive to win the cup as finishing seventh could bring greater glory than winning a cup.
But why introduce a playoff system after almost 20 years of Premier League action?

Is it a reflex reply to the scathing criticism that the 39th game received? In a way one could easily come to this conclusion.

The EPL is the most watched league in the world and the introduction of a "cup" involving four teams with everything to play for at the end of the season would be sure to spark major interest around the world.

At the moment the Championship Playoff Final is labelled as the most lucrative match in world football with an estimated £40m waiting for the winner. How much would the Champions League Playoff be worth?

Currently the top fours budgets earn almost 15 percent of their turnover from the Champions League. Just on television rights alone a trek to the final could be worth almost £40m, and that is before prize money and gate receipts are taken into account.

This season Liverpool were eliminated from the Champions League in the group stages and were dumped into the Europa League. Should Liverpool win every match in Europe's second trophy and lay claim to the trophy, nine matches, they will still pick up less money than they would have earned from playing in the CL Last 16 alone.

In short, the Champions League is huge, and the money earned there is massive. Little wonder that the top four are obsessed with keeping the league in it's current status quo.

If there is one competition that is more drenched in money than the English Premier League, it is the UEFA Champions League.

And now the lower lights in the EPL want their say, will they have the moral courage to break such a powerful monopoly?

Doing it in paper is one thing, doing it on the pitch is another...