By Walter Broeckx
Play off or not to play off.
With the current rumours, (and for once these are not rumours spread by the Untold Arsenal), around a play off for the 4th ticket that gives the right to enter the Champions League, it maybe is worth while to have a look at other countries that use or have used this system before or are still using it.
I begin (naturally) with Belgium. The Belgium league is played with 16 teams. Until a few years ago it was 18 but they have changed it to 16 to give the top teams better chance when they play in Europe. Fewer games = more chance of going further was the thinking. So before they played 34 games and now 30 games. But then they realised that playing fewer games meant less income. So they invented the play off system. This season will be the first season when it will be played like this.
The first 6 teams will play for the title. This means 10 extra games played at a high tempo. So, if you have your calculator going you will realise that you will have seen already that this will mean that instead of playing the usual 34 games they will play 40 games.
They they did it to play fewer games but ended up with more games. If you don’t get it, don’t worry. This is Belgium remember: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (see footnote – Editor).
To make things even more complicated the first 6 teams will have their points divided by 2 and this will be the starting point for the play offs which are played like in the regular competition with 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a lost game.
So if you end the regular league with 50 points you start the play offs with 25 points. The main reason for all this was…. Money. Now the top teams like Anderlecht, FC Bruges and Standard are sure to play their main rivals 2 times at home in a season and as those are the games that give the highest audiences they hope to get more money in the till at the end of the season.
To make things completely ridiculous the current and long winter caused so many postponed games that it looks likely that they won’t be able to start the play offs at the moment they had planned it. And if I may add the fact that one of the teams, Moeskroen, went bankrupt during this season and had to withdraw from the league it is a complete and utter mess in Belgian football. There is also a team that has played it’s last game on 6 February and will only play their next game on 26 February and has 20 days without a game.
And another problem is looming on the horizon because at the moment there are still 3 clubs in the Europa league and if they go to the next round it will come in the middle of the play offs and cause even more problems.
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It could also mean that when you win the regular league but for some reason don’t get to the first two places in the play offs you end up with no CL football next season.
The general conclusion can be: never follow this example.
In Holland they had over the past years a system to give away one CL entry ticket. Holland has two CL places, one for the champions after the regular season and for the second place they organised a play off with the teams that came 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th.
Number 2 played against number 4 and number 3 against number 5. The winners over those 2 games then played each other over 2 legs and the winner got the second ticket for the Champions league. The two losers in the first round played each other for a place in the Europa League.
So this could well mean that a team that has lost the league on goal difference could end up with empty hands at the end of the play offs. In the end the teams found this a bit harsh and they have stopped this system from this season. The two CL tickets go to the teams that ended the season first and second.
But they have kept one play off system for an extra Europa League place for the teams that have ended between 5 and 8 and they play in the same system as was used for the CL play offs. The main reason was, apart from more money, to keep the league interesting for those teams and to keep them fighting for something because otherwise they could lose their focus and thus influence the outcome in the title fight or the relegation battle.
So if the EPL decides to take this route it would be sensible to have a look at other country’s that have tried and have stopped the experiment or have managed to make them the laughing stock of Europe by doing this.
It all would depend on how they would organise it but it could mean that, if we take last year’s league that Fulham who came 7th with 19 points less than Arsenal in 4th place could have the CL ticket. The year before Liverpool had 18 points more than Blackburn but still could have lost the CL.
One could ask the question : why play 38 games to get it all wiped out in 2 games?
Of course in England there have been play offs for quite a few years sorting out promotion and relegation – the managers hate it but the fans turn up – so it is a money thing. And somehow in that the crazyness of the situation goes unnoticed. But put it in the spotlight to using it in the EPL, and everyone will notice.
Editor’s note on the subject of the Belgian painter, Magritte.
In the painting “The Treachery of Images” (La trahison des images), shows a styalised pipe. Magritte painted below the pipe the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”), to make the point that the painting is a painting, not the object in the painting. (This is not a typo)
A RUMOUR OR TWO
Sir Alex F Word, Fuhrer to the Money Borrowers, will sign Salvador Dali this summer in an attempt to get his team to score before the final whistle. Dali (who has been dead for 40 years) is famous for painting bent clocks – exactly the type of time piece that the manager requires. “Who are you calling bent?” said the Fuhrer when Untold tried for a word with him.
Tottenham H have retaliated by signing Picasso. “This will be very helpful if we play in Guernica,” said Appy Arry Headbasket, on his way to his latest hearing at the Old Bailey. “So sorry to hear about Portsmouth, but if they will go around buying players and signing contracts with them then what can they expect? Wouldn’t get me doing that.”
Untold Arsenal will soon start a Fine Art column under the leadership of Sir Penan Ink. Stay tuned.
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