If they win their final three games, Newcastle United, in just their second season since returning to the Premier League, will qualify for the 2012-13 Champions League. They've lost just two games at home this season, and have been the surprise name up at the top of the table, breaking up the usual 'Big Four'.
But their sparkling form and right to sit in fourth won't necessarily correlate to a Champions League spot. Should Chelsea win the Champions League Final, in Munich on May 19th, they'll be put forward by the FA as the fourth team to take part in next year's competition, at the expense of Newcastle. So after everything they've managed to muster up this season, they may not have an opportunity to play against the biggest clubs in the world.
This is all thanks to the FA's incompetence in the 2004-05 season. Chelsea and Arsenal automatically qualified for the Group Stages, as they finished in the top two respectively. Man United and Everton completed the top four, with the latter finishing in their highest ever position in the Premier League. You'd think that'd all be fine and dandy, wouldn't you? Far from it.
Liverpool's Champions League victory, beating AC Milan after a phenomenal comeback in Istanbul, led to a few headaches at FA HQ. The rules state that the Champions League holders have a right to defend their title, and therefore will qualify for the tournament instead of the lowest-placed team that has already qualified. However, the FA had already confirmed the four teams for the tournament, and that list didn't include Liverpool. Plenty of wranglings took place, and the deal allowed for Liverpool to enter the competition at the first qualifying round stage. All seemed okay with the world.
Thankfully, it all worked out alright. Had Everton gone past the third qualifying round, issues would have arose regarding the money English football receives for each stage of the tournament, and how it would be split. Should Liverpool receive more money when they didn't qualify in the first place? Should Everton be given a share that represents their position, rather than splitting it five ways? We will never know.
It wasn't the first time this has happened, either. In 1999-2000, La Liga had to make the tough decision of pulling Real Zaragoza out of the Champions League, and allow Real Madrid to defend their title. Zaragoza had finished a solitary point ahead of Madrid in fifth, and the Spanish FA chose to submit Real Madrid as their fourth team for the tournament, and put Zaragoza in the UEFA Cup.
After the Liverpool incident in 2005, UEFA outlined the rules and made them much more clear. It now meant that should the eventual winner of the Champions League finish outside of the qualifying spots, they were guaranteed to be allowed to defend their title, usually at the expense of the lowest-placed qualified team. The following is taken from the UEFA Champions League Regulations:
1.03 The UEFA Champions League title-holder is guaranteed a place in the group stage even if it does not qualify for the competition through its domestic championship.
a) If the title-holder comes from an association entitled to more than one place in the UEFA Champions League and qualifies for the UEFA Cup through its domestic competitions, the lowest-ranked club of the association’s UEFA Champions League representatives is automatically transferred to the UEFA Cup. In this case, the number of places to which the title-holder's national association is entitled in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup does not change.
b) If the title-holder comes from an association entitled to more than one place in the UEFA Champions League and does not qualify for the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Cup through its domestic competitions, the lowest-ranked club of the association’s UEFA Champions League representatives is automatically transferred to the UEFA Cup. In this case, the national association of the title-holder is entitled to one additional place in the UEFA Cup.
It means that there's just no hope of qualification for Newcastle should Chelsea beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. It's just not possible, and the FA won't enter into any negotiations about the topic again.
But it does start a new debate; one that many fans will have lengthy discussions on. Why should Chelsea be allwoed to play in the Champions League, when based on the entire season, Newcastle are the club that deserve to be there?
Of course, it won't necessarily be Newcastle. Tottenham occupy the spot after their 2-0 victory against Blackburn, but the same principle applies. If Chelsea haven't been good enough in the league to automatically qualify for the tournament, but should another team have to miss out on their hard-earned place just for the sake of allowing Chelsea to defend their title, should they win it?
I'm very much of the Newcastle side of the argument - if they've earned it, they deserve it. I don't see what benefit having the winner in the tournament, even if they've not qualified off their own back.
How about this for a situation: let's say Chelsea win the Champions League, but have had such a shocking season, they get relegated to the Championship. What happens then - does a team in the second tier of English football deserve to play in the Champions League, even though they're defending champions?
I can't imagine what Newcastle, or Tottenham fans could feel if the chance to play at the Bernabeu, or the Westfalenstadion, or the San Siro, was taken away from them. The spot could be worth over £50m in revenue - enough to support some clubs for a couple of seasons. It's such a big fiscal opportunity for the clubs, and despite playing 38 games to be there, that opportunity might not even be available to them.
Obviously, seeing an English club do well in Europe is great, and the final will be a tremendous game. But does a decent cup run meant hat a team should miss out on such a big chance, despite them earning it?
There is an easy solution to this one, though. If Chelsea win their games - including next week's Champions League battle with Newcastle, and finish in fourth anyway, there's no problem whatsoever. Which makes everyone happy at the FA, and it's beers all round for the Chelsea fans. But the likelihood of it being that easy is pretty minimal.
So, let the debate begin. Do you think Chelsea, should they win the Champions League, be able to replace the fourth-placed team? Or should Newcastle, or Tottenham, or even Arsenal, be allowed to qualify instead of the London club? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below!
You can come and say hello on Twitter - I'm @AdamMillsUK. You can also let me know your thoughts via the comments box below!
Adam, put the shoe on the other foot, If your team won the CL would you want them to have the right to defend their title if they failed to make the top 4?
Simply put, them's the rules mate.
I understand that the rules say that you can qualify, but is it fair?
I'm very much of the belief that if you don't deserve to be there, you shouldn't. Therefore, should Man United win the Champions League, and don't qualify through the Premier League, then tough - should have played better throughout the season to make sure you didn't have the option of not being there next season.
So winning a few games in Europe should constitute more than completing a full season domestically and finishing high in the table?
Potentially, winning a game in a knockout tournament can be seen as 'lucky' Winning the majority of your 38 league games and finishing in the top four certainly isn't.
Simply Adam Yes... The team has won a knockout competition against the absolute elite teams the previous season... If winning it was just a matter of a few games a team would have been able to retain it...
Teams have won league title on the bounce many times... how many times has a team... even the great Barca been able to retain the trophey?
Two factors, it is more diffcult to win than the world cup and the very fact surely any team has the right to defend what it won?
I'm afraid it is fair, and there is very little argument that can be made to suggest otherwise. Everyone knows the score at the start of the season, no one can be upset if they get 4th and another team wins the CL...
You can win one game in a knock out luckily, maybe two... but 8 or 9? no not for me...
don't avoid the question.
If your team won the CL would you want them to have the right to defend their title if they failed to make the top 4?
AvFcHaarlem - probably
I did, through my Man United statement. I'm a Man United fan, and don't believe that if we won the Champions League and finished sixth in the Premier League that we deserved to defend the title. You qualify, or you don't. It shouldn't be based on replacing other teams that played better than you for nine months of the year.
It is so easy to say that when you support a team that is unlikely to fail to finish in the top 3.
I can't help who I support.
But turn your statement on its head - would you deny Newcastle, arguably not a team you would consider Top Four, the opportunity to play in the Champions League when they've earned that chance?
It's a bit of a mis-question... of course any fan would feel aggreived...
I feel aggrieved when i pay my taxes... some would say they are unfair, some would say they're fair... I know it has to be done, I know no one has suddenly changed the rules and just accpet it for what it is....