A none-too-brief guide to how this whole European qualification malarkey can, might and will break down for anyone who wants to waste time reading about football on a Monday afternoon rather than work or argue about recently deceased Prime Ministers.
Sunday April 30 2006. Fans at White Hart Lane about to watch Spurs beat Bolton Wanderers unveiled a vast banner with a simple message:
“We’re all going on a European Tour”
Felt good didn’t it, being back in European football again? In the twenty-two years of league action preceding the 2005/06 season, Spurs had qualified for proper European football (glossing over one season when we went loco down with Intertoto) a whopping two times, neither through our league finish. In 1992, Spurs went out of the Cup Winners Cup in the Quarter Finals, while in 2000 we failed to get past round two of the UEFA Cup. Back to 2006, we finished fifth and were therefore headed for the UEFA Cup. The prospect of Europe hadn’t been this exciting since the Griswold family won the television game show “Pig In A Poke”.
Naturally these days we’re so accustomed to European football at the Lane that we can afford to boo our players and forget to sing during major quarter-finals, but that’s what success does for you, I suppose. The sort of fans who thinks it’s okay to abuse players or thinks it’s our God-given right to appear in this type of fixture is also, I suspect, the sort of fan who wouldn’t recognise an obscure National Lampoon reference in an introduction to an article about European football qualification if it bit them on the nose and they are cordially invited to go off in a sodding way.
As for the rest of you, you’re lovely and sexy and I’d like to share with you a look at how European qualification might go down this season. Mostly it’s about how unlikely Liverpool and Everton are to play (at all) in Europe next season, so you may even enjoy that bit more than the parts relating to Tottenham.
Well duh. Top four, innit? No chance of an English winner in the CL itself, so we all know what we need to do and there can be no repeats of last year’s unpleasantness.
And we all know that top three in the league go automatically to the Group Stages. The fourth placed finisher has a “tricky” qualifying tie first. Memories of Pav spanking Young Boys (there has to be a better way to say that) come to mind.
England gets three automatic places in the Europa League. One for the fifth-placed finisher in the league, one for the League Cup, one for the FA Cup. That is all. Usually it happens that at least one of the cup places is taken by a team in the top five, so the sixth - and maybe seventh if BOTH cups are won by a side at the top of the Premier League - placed league finisher also qualifies for the Europa League.
The rule that often goes misunderstood is regarding the Runners-Up of each cup. In the League Cup (Capital One Cup), the Runners-Up do NOT qualify for Europe. That spot goes to the league. So if Swansea finished in the top five, Bradford would not have got into Europe. However, the FA Cup Runners-Up DO take the European spot if the winners are in the top five.
And that’s where this season becomes sort of interesting. We have two FA Cup semi-finals very unbalanced in terms of quality. With Chelsea and Man City virtually guaranteed to finish top five and contesting one semi, it means whoever faces them in the final will go into Europe rather than the team who finished sixth in the league.
Put simply, the winner of the Wigan Vs Millwall FA Cup semi-final will play in next season’s Europa League. The sixth placed PL finisher, currently Everton, will not. Unless…
People who remember the Jol-fuelled European adventures back in the mid-00s probably also remember the season before when we sat like elderly women at a church raffle, desperately clutching our little pink raffle ticket marked “Fair Play Entrant”. Spurs had finished top of the Premier League Fair Play Table (actually second but Arsenal had, like the bastards they are, qualified for the CL) and the English top flight had ranked among Europe’s best so we hoped against hope for Spurs to be one of the two teams pulled out of the hat (really, I’m not making this up) among eight others. We, of course, weren’t.
Things have moved on since that lottery. Never let it be said that UEFA is a malfunctioning decrepit organ riddled with outdated bureaucracy. Well, okay, do let that be said. But just quietly as in this case they have made things slightly more straightforward.
Now, Europe’s top three most ‘Fair’ leagues get one additional spot in the Europa League. And that goes to the team who finishes highest in that league’s Fair Play League. Simple.
What you want to know is how does this affect England and possibly Spurs? And where are the crying Scousers I promised at the start? Don’t worry, they’re coming up…
The leagues currently ranked the ‘fairest’ in Europe are Norway, Sweden and Finland. The English Premier League is fourth, although stats are only updated as of December 31, 2012 (you can now let it be said that UEFA is a malfunctioning decrepit organ… and etc).
Say England gets its act together and “makes it” to the top three fairest leagues in Europe - PL currently ranks 8.166 points with Finland on 8.205, whatever that means. Who will grab that extra Europa League spot?
Currently, in a remarkable reflection of the league nine years ago, top of the Premier League Fair Play Table – calculated after 27 games, take that bumbling UEFA apparatchik – Arsenal are top (8.70 points), with Spurs (8.64) second. Since it seems likely that these sides (knocks wood, clutches rabbits foot, crosses fingers and holds four-leaf clover) will finish in the top five in the league, looking below them we have: Liverpool (8.59), then Fulham (8.55) and then Southampton (8.51).
NOTE: The Fair Play League is NOT just about how many bookings and red cards a league has. Mainly it’s about respect to officials and staff. Referees ratings for the teams they officiate are taken highly into account.
EUROPA LEAGUE WINNER
The winner of the Europa League automatically requalifies for next season’s tournament. That could be us. No, really. If us or Chelsea win the Europa League and finish in the top four in the league, we would obviously play in the Champions League. There would be no extra place going to an English league side (sixth place) if this were to happen. Plus, if we or Chelsea win the Europa League AND finish fifth, there would NOT be an extra EL place going to sixth in the Premier League.
Do the Runners-Up in the Europa League qualify for next season’s event in the case that the winners are already in that or the Champions League? Say we finish sixth then lose to Chelsea in the EL Final...? Sorry, someone had to say it.
...not 100% sure. Sorry. Can’t find that out. But I’m pretty sure not.
WHAT THIS MEANS TEAM-BY-TEAM
Spurs: Well, we want top four, don’t we? But assuming something goes wrong (say a horrendous injury crisis, backlog of fixtures, extensive travel through Europe or any more games refereed by Andre Marriner), we would only miss out on the Europa League if we were caught by Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton or Liverpool. The latter two are six and nine points behind with seven and six games left respectively. Even if that happens, we could claim the additional Fair Play spot assuming England makes it into the top three European FP leagues and we finish ahead of everyone apart from Arsenal. Oh and we could also re-qualify for next year’s Europa League if we win that tournament.
Chelsea: See Spurs, basically. Exactly the same scenario except they’ve got no chance of qualifying for Europa League through Fair Play. Quelle surprise.
Arsenal: There are various hilariously brilliant ways things could go hideously wrong for Arsenal. Sadly, we all know it'll never happen but let's have a laugh at the idea anyway. Firstly, if the season ended today, Arsenal would miss out on the Champions League next season for the first time in their history. They have to catch either Spurs or Chelsea, although they are well placed to do so. What, however, they are also possibly placed for is to fall short in the league. Everton are only four points behind them and they still have to meet. If Arsenal finish sixth, they would be relying on the English Premier League finishing in the top three European FP leagues, but would qualify through that as England’s ‘fairest’ team (Ha!).
Everton: Scrapping to get to fifth. Currently they will not be playing in Europe next season, which seems incredibly harsh given their quality and the fact they’ll probably comfortably pass the 60-point mark that normally achieves European football. They’re 10th in the PL Fair Play League.
Liverpool: Three points behind Everton. Six behind Arsenal. So, in theory, worse off than their Merseyside neighbours. However, they are the most likely team (given they are the next team behind Arsenal and Spurs in the FP league) to benefit from the potential “Fair Play route”.
West Brom: Twelve points behind Arsenal with six games left. They, and everyone below them, has as much chance of qualifying for Europe through the league as Paolo di Canio does of becoming the next editor of The Morning Star.
While it seems Manchester currently rules as England’s top footballing city, London is right behind it. The three top teams from the capital are looking likely to fill league places three to five and therefore qualify for Europe next season (although which two will make the Champions League and which one the Europa League is very much up for grabs). Swansea along with Wigan or Millwall will play in the Europa League next season. The two Merseyside clubs will have to produce something special in the last seven games of their seasons to qualify ahead of their London-based rivals. The most likely case is that neither Liverpool or Everton will play any form of European football next season. It even seems that Liverpool have more chance of getting into the Europa League by not tackling and sucking up to referees, than by winning football matches… How the mighty have fallen.
There, that’s it. Possibly the longest article ever on Spurs Community. And you read it all. Unless you broke off to check if I got the right meaning for the word “apparatchik” (I didn’t) and lost interest, then came back later and just read this last line before closing your browser. Either way, well done. And thank you.