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UEFA Cup Mess Is Hurting Premiership Clubs As Well

MikeyJ is just as displeased as Alex Ferguson about how competing in the Premiership and European competitions in tandem work against English clubs.

After his side’s goalless draw against Portsmouth last month, Reading manager Steve Coppell was not too downhearted about the Royals’ fading hopes of a place in the UEFA Cup.

“The way the UEFA Cup is formed you get a couple of games, maybe in eastern Europe, you don’t get the TV income and you end up losing money but because you’re in Europe you’ve got to take on more players,” he said.

“It’s been a burden and we can’t afford to have a burden.

“It’s a real conundrum, I suppose, as regards our future.”

That pessimism has continued as the Royals have continued to perform well in the top-flight and has been echoed to a lesser extent by Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp.

That a genuine football man like Coppell, who would have played in the UEFA Cup for Manchester United when the competition was a close second to the European Cup in terms of prestige is sad, although understandable from his point of view.

The pressures of his job mean that for him it’s no longer about pitting his wits against different teams, different coaches, but about television revenue, long trips before Premiership games and tired players.

Ten years ago (or at any other time in their history), the thought that a club like Reading could have reservations about playing in Europe would have been unthinkable.

Although the all-consuming Premiership with it’s TV riches is an important factor, the UEFA Cup is now a complete mess, being neither one thing or the other.

It is only worthwhile really if a club makes it to the last four or the final.

Newcastle played 14 games in Europe this season including the Intertoto Cup but still only got as far as the last 16 of the UEFA Cup.

For the likes of Everton, Tottenham and Newcastle it is important of course to be in Europe but financially, the Magpies especially must have struggled to make up what they have lost in terms of Premiership prize money from their UEFA Cup run this season.

The group stage of the competition does not work at all and needs to be scrapped. Making all the rounds two-leg knockouts would make it more straightforward but a more radical idea that has been mooted is simply to scrap the UEFA Cup altogether and enlarge the Champions League.

Allowing the 5th and 6th place English sides (together with more teams from every league) into the qualifying rounds would give them a shot at a lucrative group stage place. The group stage itself could be expanded in terms of numbers of groups, with an extra knockout round before the last 16, allowing 32 more teams into the group stage.

For the big clubs that would mean only two extra games were they to progress while the likes of Reading would be in a no-lose position.

Either they lose out in the qualifying rounds and have no fixture congestion back in the Premiership or they qualify for a group stage that is far more rewarding financially and from a football point of view than the UEFA Cup equivalent.

Platini has mooted scrapping the UEFA in the past, but as no other alternative has been proposed it seems like it is now All quiet on the Western Front.