Magritte on the issue of Champ League play offs

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.

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)


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.

Coming soon…

  • The last FA Cup final between two solvent clubs
  • Sunderland to play Davy Lamp at centre forward

And finally

Stuff that is even funnier than this stuff.  Read it here.

11 Replies to “Magritte on the issue of Champ League play offs”

  1. I have always been torn about the whole “play-off” system, whether for CL places or for a Super Bowl type “winner takes all” conclusion to the season scenario. I totally agree that 38 games decides who is the best team fairly and squarely, but after living in North America for a while the question they ask over here is:

    Why is the best team always winning automatically such a good thing?

    Over here the playoffs are a way for the dominant, rich teams to get a comeuppance. Upsets happen in a one-off game much more frequently than they ever could over a 38 game season. Chelsea, Utd and Arsenal will always have an advantage over 38 games due to their squad size and wealth, but over one or two games that advantage will be substantially reduced and luck will begin to play a part. Here in North America they encourage upsets, and love it when the “best” team doesnt win it all. It is seen as a triumph when a small team beats a big team.

    However, I do agree about the number of games played being an issue. I think if you brought in any playoff system you’d also have to accept that teams taking part may decide to follow Arsenal’s lead and play shadow teams in Cup competitions.

  2. As a result by having to play more games the teams could end up with making bigger squads and have to pay more wages and if they then fail and don’t get to the CL they are even in bigger financial problems.
    So it could mean even more troubles for the teams at the end of the day.

    Just saw the press conference and as Wenger pointed out the 4th CL place is not certain and if Platini (enemy of EPL remember) one day decides to change the system or when the uefa coefficient drops down it could mean that you start the season with the intention of a play off and at the end of the season the 4th place does not give you entry to the CL.
    You can imagine how many people will turn op for those games who are pointless in that situation.

  3. Walter – something akin to that has just happened in Scotland. Because the Scottish clubs have performed so badly in Europe (apparently the beer isn’t the right shade of green), next season they are down to one place in the Champs League, and that place will start with the 2nd qualifying round – so they have 3 games to get into the knock out.

    Mind you, with Rangers having lost every, or almost every game (forgive me I can’t remember) this season it is not surprising.

    I am always bemused when I look at the table of the Welsh league, where there are three lines drawn, one under first, one under second, one under third place.

    What the hell does that mean? The first one goes to the Champs League, the second to the Europa league, and the third is not a pipe?

  4. This is not a third place…. in Wales I think…?

    Do teams from Wales qualify for those competitions ? I never knew in fact…

  5. Walter, every country’s league winner gets a place. The issue with Wales is their league is so minor, that they only go in at the very very earliest qualifying rounds and are eliminated most likely before any major side plays them.

    I do, however remember when Liverpool were in that round (when they won the cup but came 5th) and they actually played TNS, he Welsh champions at that time.

    Anyway! The whole idea of a playoff is to give more teams a shot at the pot of gold that is the Champions League. So, given all the issues involved (why do 7th deserve a shot, fixture congestion etc) why not just share the CL money equally? There’s all sorts of reasons for and against this, I may (one day!) but together an article on the subject

  6. Or you can follow 10-Pin Bowling Step-Ladder Final with NFL Playoff that the highest ranking teams have home ground advantage.

    Game #1 – 7th plays 6th (6th home ground advantage)
    Game #2 – 5th plays Game #1 Winner at home.
    Game #3 – 4th plays Game #2 Winner for last CL Cup slot.

    of course 4th has home ground advantage and it is up to them to lose their coveted CL Cup 4th placing.

    This will still keep teams fighting all the way for 4th to 7th placing as it gives them home ground advantage, plus of course, playing less games and have a longer rest to recuperate in readiness for the CL Cup Playoff…like NFL Playoff.

    But if any 4th placing or any lower placing team won the CL Cup that year, then they are awarded the “4th CL Cup slot” automatically.
    And it is the 3rd placing team that will be dragged into the play-off.

    And to reduce the amount of games played, then prem league should be reduced to 19 teams.

    And the 39th game is in fact the CL Cup Playoff Final.

  7. Walter, nice examples. As you, AW, David Moyes, and the more reasonable commentators out there point out, whole proposal is a huge, huge mess. The European coefficient and the fixture congestion are the most worthy reasons against the proposal.

    But I think it’s good that it was brought up because it makes people think about the huge inequalities within the PL (and world football in general).

    Phil — I agree with you that the CL money needs to be distributed more evenly. The crazy TV money has put the whole thing out of whack (it should be more about the prestige of the competition, rather than the money, which is what the focus has become…).

    The question is, would the 7th-placed team be competitive enough to win the CL? I think not, given the depth of a squad needed to compete in it. But the 3rd and 4th certainly can be, as proven by the recent results of English teams…

  8. what a quote by wenger – “opponents bought his players”. Was he unable to confront them?? Or was he a part??ok that was a bit too much, the last question.

    I think that’s a good fodder for ur new article.

  9. Tim, the gap between 4th and 7th is narrowing pretty fast.
    In fact, my prediction is that form 1st to 7th, there will be a narrow gap where any team can beat anybody on its day.
    Everton 2 Chelski 1
    Everton 3 ManLeeds 1

    I suspect that Abramovich is gettign tired and may not spend next season to rejuvenate a fast ageing suqad assembled by Raineri and Mourinho.
    SImilarly, ManIOU simply does not have the cash to splash on 30+ mil players no more. Plus Ferguson is reaching retirement fast, maybe next season, if not definitely the next.

    Either of these teams – Abu Dhabi City, Aston Villa and even S*CUMS – can compete during Group stage ande ven knock-out rounds.
    That is what money at prem league ahd done to improve all those Top-8 teams in prem league.

    It will be back to the late-70s and early-80s (before 1986 Heysel Stadium Tragedy) where English teams simply dominated European Cup, CUp-WInner Cup and European Fair Cup.

    And of course, Abu Dhabi City will simply buy their way into a title like what Jack Walker and Abramovich did before.

    My prediction?
    Le Professuer will get his act together within 18 months and in 2007/08 and 1st half of this season, we saw how the Ajax Model worked, and when his 3rd and greatest TEAM matures and grow up together, we will dominate Europe and prem league next season.

    Arsenal does not have to worry about CL CUp playoff in 2014.

    By 2010/11 season and thereafter, we will fighting for title with runner-up as a consolation prize.

  10. Play offs – isn’t that what suited ego’s do underneath boardroom tables together. As with Bill Clinton’s notion of governance/administration, things have got out of hand!!

    I’ve read and heard a lot on the American models of “sport” recently offering solutions/alternatives to the financial issues of “the game”. They simply don’t cut the mustard – and I mean the English firey nose, eye watering variety not the bland watered down shite “American blend” used on a hot dog.

    The CL is too big and out of control – it should not have all the pre-tournament qualifiers – you are simply not a champion coming in third or forth or arguably second.

    I’d be disappointed if football/soccer was Americanized further, I liked football before the marketing men decided that it should be a sport for millionaires and celebrity dictated by suits, more of a turtle neck and facial hair man meself, bring back the 70’s – living in a country where the average “family” income per year is 400 US Dollars, makes the whole thing even more surreal.

    re: upsetting the big clubs – thought that was the charm of the FA Cup and it clearly works.

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