ARSENAL could be handed an astonishing backdoor route into next season’s Champions League – despite standing NINTH in the Prem table.
Uefa’s video conference with the 55 national associations agreed to push ahead with attempts to restart leagues across Europe by June to play out the season to a finish.
But if it proves impossible to complete domestic seasons amid the continuing coronavirus crisis, Euro chiefs have been urged to order associations to use Uefa coefficient scores to decide which teams play in respective competitions next term.
The ludicrous idea would see Arsenal joining Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United in England’s “top four”, with Spurs, Chelsea and Leicester in the Europa League – and Sheffield United and Wolves missing out altogether.
But Spurs would then take City’s place in the Champions League if the reigning Prem champs’ two-year Euro ban is upheld.
Meanwhile, Premier League clubs are readying their lawyers to fight Uefa’s latest crazy idea.
European football chiefs will consider using coefficient rankings to decide who plays in the Champions League and Europa League next term — if domestic leagues cannot be finished.
And if that becomes a reality, you can bet the writs will start flying.
Uefa ordering the FA to ignore the Prem table when Wembley puts forward the clubs to take part in next season’s European competitions seems ridiculous.
Uefa President Aleksander Ceferin is understood not to be in favour, arguing that the “integrity of competitions” must be paramount and urging this season’s performances to be decisive.
Yet, bonkers as it may appear, that was one of the ideas booted round – and not off – the virtual boardroom table yesterday.
A genuine proposal, that will be discussed by the influential European Clubs Association and Uefa today and then by European football’s ruling executive committee tomorrow.
And if it goes through, to the outrage of Leicester, Chelsea, Wolves and Sheffield United – and the private delight of Manchester United, Arsenal and, possibly, Spurs – the only guarantee is that the legal challenges will be lodged as soon as the decision was ratified.
As one prominent Prem club boss noted, in a mastery of understatement: “If it were to happen, that would be a problem!”
Ceferin used the video conference with the 55 national associations to make clear he wants the the Big Five leagues, along with the rest, to restart by June and be played to a finish, allowing the two European knock-out competitions to be included at the end of August.
But with the length of the coronavirus shutdown still uncertain, and Uefa conceding for the first time that may not be possible, discussions spread to what would happen next.
Uefa’s brief statement following the meeting confirmed: “There was a strong recommendation given to finish domestic top division and cup competitions.
“But some special cases will be heard once guidelines concerning participation to European competitions – in case of a cancelled league – have been developed.”
In such circumstances, Ceferin suggested that each national association should present a list of names to play in the Champions League and Uefa League.
But some national FAs, reluctant to make the final decisions and risk a fall-out with their clubs, pushed back.
They argued that, instead, Uefa club coefficients, which are compiled over a rolling five-year period, should be the key factor.
In the Prem, that would see fifth-placed United leapfrog Leicester and Chelsea into England’s third spot, with Arsenal jumping into fourth from ninth.
When Gunners executives proposed the £500,000 bonus clause if the Emirates side lifted the Champions League title next season, they probably did not realise the door to the richest prize could be opened up out of seemingly nowhere.
Spurs, currently eighth, would join Chelsea in the Europa League, although, with Manchester City currently still facing a two-year European ban, they could sneak into the “top four”.
Leicester, thanks to their run to the Champions League quarter-finals in 2017, would be in the Europa League, Wolves only in Europe if City remain banned, and Sheffield United, who have never played a European football, not even a consideration.
The unfairness of such a scenario is obvious – in Spain, it would see Atletico Madrid “steal” Real Sociedad’s spot, with Roma replacing Inter Milan from Serie A and Leverkusen and Schalke edging out Leipzig and Monchengladbach in Germany.
Ceferin does not need reminding and will be hoping that the leagues are able to restart within the six weeks he envisages as the best solution for everybody.
But it remains an option ahead of tomorrow’s executive committee meeting, which will see the big clubs represented by Andrea Agnelli of Juventus and PSG’s Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
Uefa is likely to confirm that August will be the fall-back to finish this season’s outstanding Euro ties, with the extra time potentially making travel between countries viable again.
And the executive committee is also set to rearrange the Euro 2020 play-offs, cancelled last month, for the start of September – just before the likely kick-off of the 2020-21 league campaign, with “triple-header” Nations League games in October and November.