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Euro play-off idea divides opinion among top managers

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and his Villa counterpart Martin O'Neill
Wenger and O'Neill have different perceptions of the play-off plan

The idea for a play-off to decide the fourth Premier League team to qualify for the Champions League has drawn a mixed response from top flight bosses.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says he is against the concept, insisting that "after 38 games, you have to consider the table is the table".

But Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill said the idea was "interesting" and one that "people might go for".

The plan would see teams from fourth to seventh play-off for the final spot.

The move has been interpreted as a way of increasing competition in the Premier League because Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have filled the top four positions in five out of the past six seasons.

But Wenger said there was no reason to think the clubs finishing in the top four would always be the same.

"If Stoke finish fourth, it does not devalue the Champions League at all. It is down to where you finish," he added.


"I believe you have to accept the best four play in the Champions League - that does not mean it has to be the same.

"This season is a massive fight. Nobody is guaranteed until now to be in the top four.

"That is why you have to be open about it, but also accept the best four teams are in there, otherwise you have to create new rules every season."

The proposal, which would need the agreement of 14 of the 20 top flight clubs, could not be introduced for at least three years because of the existing TV deal.

Wenger argued that if the rules were changed at the top end of the table, then a similar play-off system should also be in effect to decide relegation.

"If a team is 10 points ahead in fourth from seventh place, I do not see any reason why we should reconsider that," said Wenger, whose side have finished fourth in the Premier League in three of the past four seasons.

"Why, then, should the 17th not play against the 14th not to go down?"

O'Neill, meanwhile, said he could see the positives of an idea described by Everton boss David Moyes as "worth looking at".

Outside the top sides I think people might go for it

Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill

"It's quite interesting," said O'Neill. "I wouldn't knock it immediately, particularly if we finish seventh in the league!

"I know the team who finished fourth would be galled if that was the case, but if you knew the rules in advance at the start of the season then you know the parameters.

"The Premier League seems rather glamorous, but it's a constant struggle.

"You always feel as though relegation is haunting you. You want to get into the middle section of the table and then at the end of the season there could still be a charge for this spot.

"Outside the top sides I think people might go for it."

However Fulham boss Roy Hodgson suggested any pressure from club managers will have to be ignored by the decision makers.

Play-off idea needs more thought - Hodgson

"A wise decision needs to be made after all the advantages and disadvantages have been analysed," said Hodgson.

"At the moment you'll get people who have something to benefit from it say it's a good idea, while those who don't will say the opposite.

"These important matters shouldn't be decided by people like myself who might think that selfishly this is a good idea."

The proposal was discussed at a meeting of the 20 Premier League teams earlier this month and will be on the agenda again when they next meet in April.

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see also
Top flight ponders Euro play-offs
15 Feb 10 |  Premier League
Ferguson condemns 39th game plan
16 Dec 08 |  Man Utd
Is Premier League world's best?
11 Apr 08 |  Football
Mixed reaction to overseas plan
08 Feb 08 |  Premier League
Does the world want Premier League?
14 Feb 08 |  Premier League
Fifa rejects 39th-game proposal
14 Mar 08 |  Premier League
Top clubs consider overseas games
07 Feb 08 |  Premier League
How to watch Match of the Day
09 Aug 11 |  Match of the Day

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