EPL: The Race For Fourth Place Heats Up

Fourth place and Champions League qualification has never been so valuable – or crucial – for Premier League clubs:


Arsene Wenger chose the word "disaster" not so long ago to describe the implication of missing out on the Champions League after a run of 14 successive qualifications. Although Arsenal have had some close shaves in the past, and required pre-qualifiers in recent campaigns (each of which they have hurdled), they are naturally used to the extra income and status that comes with annual participation. Although publicly the club's administrative department are keen to stress they are not dependent on it, privately they will be sweating. As it is, they find it a strain to meet what the chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, calls the "continued pressures" of an enormous wage bill and running costs. It would be no surprise to see Arsenal attempting to trim their expenses this summer, with a number of squad players on heavy salaries who do not represent value for money draining their resources. It is not easy to move such problems on but they have to try if they want to strengthen their squad.

The Champions League obviously affects their position regarding their priority business: Robin van Persie. The chances of keeping hold of their talismanic striker will be damaged if they cannot offer him the elite European stage. In terms of who they might attract, and Lukas Podolski's name has been mentioned amongst others, again, the Champions League is a helpful attraction. The pool of top players who are buyable is small, and Wenger tacitly acknowledges that, if it boils down to wages, Arsenal have to step aside to let the super rich have their pick. After that, the Champions League becomes a valuable bargaining chip. It is definitely a magnet they will want pulling in their direction.


In the eight years, from 2003 to 2011, that Roman Abramovich poured close to £900m of his oligarch's treasure into Chelsea pursuing the ultimate trophy, he can hardly have contemplated failing to qualify for the Champions League. Chelsea are already struggling, the club admits, to comply with UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules after years of huge losses bankrolled by Abramovich. In the accounts for the year to 30 June 2011, published last month, Chelsea revealed they lost £68m, way above the losses of £37m in total over 2012 and 2013 permitted by UEFA's rules. Last season, when Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals by Manchester United, UEFA's figures show the club were paid £38m in TV and prize money for their participation in the competition.

Without that, and the income the club makes from tickets and other sales at Stamford Bridge on Champions League nights, failing to qualify would cost the club close to £50m. Were that to be added to a loss on a similar scale to that of 2011, it would be financially catastrophic; Abramovich could pay up to subsidise it again, as he has committed to, but Chelsea could surely not meet financial fair play. In the 2011 accounts the club stated that the introduction of financial fair play "provides a significant challenge". Chelsea argued that the 2010-11 financial performance was skewed by the "exceptional" payment of £28m compensation for the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti and his coaches, and to Porto for the appointment of Andre Villas-Boas. However, a sacking of the manager has not been very exceptional in the years of Abramovich's rule, and there is a strong financial imperative for the owner to find some patience, rather than sack Villas-Boas, so soon after appointing him.

Newcastle United

Considering it never featured in this season's business plan, failure to qualify for the Champions League would hardly constitute disaster. Indeed, with the Europa League now Alan Pardew's key target, the possibility of finishing in the top four is regarded as a potentially wonderful bonus at a club several pundits tipped for relegation last summer. If, as expected, Newcastle fail to make the final Champions League cut the one real downside might involve Pardew struggling to retain his key players. Although Demba Ba's knee problems may yet ensures he stays on Tyneside, suitors are already circling Tim Krul, Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye and Fabricio Coloccini. Should a place in Europe's showpiece competition beckon, however, Mike Ashley, Newcastle's owner, could well decide to keep the current squad intact.

Regular European football has always been Ashley and Pardew's principal aim but, privately, they may prefer to take their first steps on the comparative nursery slopes of the Europa League. Nonetheless, with a major, ambitious, overhaul of the club's academy designed to attract the continent's best youngsters underway the resultant publicity could prove priceless. If Champions League involvement accelerates the academy's development, Pardew would want to acquire at least a couple more highly technical players in the mould of Cabaye and Davide Santon were he to receive an invitation to rub shoulders with Barcelona, Real Madrid et al. For Newcastle, the fine line between Champions and Europa League or plain old domestic football could mean the difference between Ashley staying put or departing.


Kenny Dalglish spent last summer avoiding an answer to what Champions League qualification meant to Liverpool only for the club's owner, John W Henry, to state the obvious on the eve of the season. "Our main goal is to qualify for the Champions League. If we don't, it would be a major disappointment," said Henry. If it was a big ask after two years outside the European elite, Henry could justify his challenge with the £118m committed on new players - albeit with almost £70m recouped - since Fenway Sports Group took control. The hierarchy's sights have not lowered as a result of winning the Carling Cup. "Our goal is still to reach the Champions League but this has been a big day for us," said the chairman, Tom Werner, as Dalglish and his players soaked up the Wembley triumph last Sunday.

Every year outside the top four makes it more difficult to get back in. Liverpool have not had European football to complicate the task this season and Thursday nights in the Europa League await next year should they fall short again. Without Champions League revenue and with a decision to make on the stadium, Fenway are unlikely to be so obliging in the transfer market this summer. Damien Comolli, Liverpool's director of football, said as much on Friday. "We signed nine players since Kenny came back so there will be a few adjustments but nothing massive. We have done the hard work and now it is a question of making some adjustments in certain positions," he said. There will be doubts over Luis Suarez's future should Liverpool go another season without Champions League football, although he owes them one less headache at least.

Source: UEFA, Associated Preass

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