by Jerrad Peters (@peterssoccer)
There has been some confusion as to how next season’s UEFA Champions League will be set up should Chelsea win this year’s instalment on Saturday.
The Blues, who wound up a disappointing sixth in the just-concluded Premier League campaign, can only get back into the competition if they win it—a result that would automatically see them claim one of the four places England are awarded. There are ramifications for a Bayern Munich win as well, with four sides standing to improve their lot in the allocation system should the Bundesliga giants add a fifth European cup to their trophy cabinet. But more on this later.
For Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday’s match is nearly as important as it is for the sides actually contesting it. Their fourth-place finish in the Premier League would typically have seen them gain entry to the playoff round of the 2012-13 Champions League, and it still may. But only if Bayern win it this time around. A Chelsea victory would have Spurs forfeit their allocation and drop into the Europa League, in which case the summer business being conducted at White Hart Lane would take on a drastically different element.
The current model at Spurs, from players already under contract to planned investment in the transfer window, is based largely on the prospect of Champions League football. Take it away and you have a much different club with a much different reality—a reality that may come to visit as soon as July.
Consider the players, or types of players, Spurs are thought to be interested in signing this summer. Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen is surely at or near the top of their shopping list, and at a rate of around £10 million he won’t come cheap. He may also be less inclined to come at all if Spurs can’t offer Champions League football—something he’s guaranteed to get at his current club.
It’s a similar scenario regarding Marseille striker Loic Remy, who will have no shortage of Champions League-bound suitors over the next few months. Spurs are rumoured to be quite keen on bringing the France international to White Hart Lane, but without Champions League football their only drawing card is heightened wages, and their wage bill will surely be less if Chelsea win on Saturday instead of Bayern.
Which brings us to the current squad.
In Luca Modric, Gareth Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart, Spurs have three players who will be extremely hard to keep around if the Europa League is the only thing on offer. Modric nearly left the club last summer after a fifth-place finish, and it’s hard to imagine chairman Daniel Levy would be able to convince another year out of him if the Champions League remained once again elusive.
Bale, meanwhile, is the club’s most-prized asset and one of European football’s most sought-after commodities. Spurs can probably hold on to him, and perhaps sign him to a new contract, if they get into the Champions League, but if they don’t he may be headed for the exit as well.
Van der Vaart was bought expressly for the 2010-11 Champions League campaign and represents the type of player Spurs can attract if they’re competing on the biggest stage. He’s also the type of player—high-profile and continental—they’ll be losing if they’re not.
Then there’s Emmanuel Adebayor, who spent the past season on loan from Manchester City. Manager Harry Redknapp has already admitted he’d like to do another deal for the Togo striker, but it’s hard to imagine Spurs being able to afford his wages—nevermind a permanent transfer fee—if they don’t have Champions League revenue to count on.
Of course, Spurs wouldn’t be in this predicament had they managed to hold onto third spot instead of plummeting into fourth. A run of just one win from nine matches stretching from the end of February to the third week of April proved extremely costly, but on their 2012 form alone this is a side that might have finished as low as seventh. From the beginning of March until the end of the season Spurs took just 16 points from 12 matches—a total, when prorated over a 38-game season, that would have seen them come 10th in the table.
Establishing a tradition of Champions League football is no easy task. It’s a club that’s much more difficult to get into than it is to drop out of. (Just as Liverpool.) And that’s why Saturday is such a vital juncture in the modern history of Tottenham Hotspur. A Bayern win, and they’re into the competition for a second time in three years. A Chelsea triumph, and that 2010-11 campaign will look more and more like a one-time thing. The current squad will look like it, too.
Belgian champions Anderlecht will move directly to the group stage from their current allocation in the third qualifying round with a Bayern Munich win—a result that would also see Swiss champions Basel move to the third qualifying round from the second and both Valletta (Malta) and Linfield (Northern Ireland) progress to the second qualifying round from the first.
A Chelsea win would see Portuguese side Braga and Russian giants Spartak Moscow move from the third qualifying round to the play-off round. Moreover, if Chelsea win the Champions League they’ll be seeded in the group stage. They will not take Tottenham’s position in the playoff round. Arsenal, who finished third in the Premier League, will retain their group stage berth as well.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer
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