Finally it looks like a decision is about to be made on whether Liverpool will be able to defend their title of European Champions.
UEFA’s Director of Communications, William Gaillard was insisting recently that Liverpool wouldn’t be allowed into next season’s competition. It’s not his decision to make though, his job is relay the news from within UEFA as to the progress of the decision making process. He was asked by the Today program on BBC Radio this morning if he thought there would be a decision in the next couple of days, and said: "Yes, hopefully. It will depend on many telephone calls and the issue being discussed thoroughly with the executive committee members."
Gaillard has seemingly softened his stance – last week he said the rules were set in stone and couldn’t be changed. Now he’s talking of a possible compromise: "There is a lot of sympathy for Liverpool’s plight, at the same time we have rules. You strike a compromise between the sympathy and the rules."
The main rule is the one in the latest Champions League regulations, published in April of this year, saying that there are only a maximum of four teams allowed in for any one country. England, Spain and Italy are the only countries who are allowed the four qualifiers from league positions. UEFA’s intention is that if the European Champions finish outside the top four in their domestic league then that country’s FA must nominate them in place of the fourth-placed team. The FA refused to do this, which is why we are now in this position.
The Spanish FA, no doubt not wishing to get on the wrong side of Real Madrid, had a similar situation in 2000 when Real Madrid won the title but struggled in their domestic league, as Gaillard points out: "The rule was applied five years ago in Spain, replacing the fourth-placed team with the winners of the Champions League. So there is a precedent. At the same time we understand that in England – and probably outside, given the way they won the title – it provoked a lot of sympathy."
A lot has been said about what is stopping Liverpool being allowed in. First of all, there is room for the European Champions. If England had only three places, like for instance Germany, then Liverpool would be in the competition next season without any fuss whatsoever. Liverpool would also be put straight into the group stages – that’s a perk of being European Champions.
The main problem is that of money. As ever in football nowadays. For Liverpool to be guaranteed a place in the group stages, another team has to qualify that would otherwise have been in the group stages. Group stages mean six guaranteed games for each club, which is why the format was created. Gaillard tried to point out that Liverpool’s inclusion messes up their plans for money distribution: "It is not just common sense, not as easy as it sounds because it may have an influence on other clubs. It’s important we get a consensus from our executive committee on the matter before proceeding."
Reading between the lines, it certainly sounds like UEFA have decided on a method which will allow Liverpool in. This now has to be ratified by the executive committee, and that could be the stumbling block. Liverpool do have a lot of allies on their side in the matter, including Geoff Thompson of the FA, himself a UEFA executive member. The biggest fear for UEFA will be the backing that Liverpool are now said to have from G14. This is the group of eighteen major clubs of which Liverpool are a founder member that represents the views of those clubs in European matters. Arsenal and Manchester United are two of the other members of the organisation, along with the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus. The support of this body is vital to UEFA – if those 18 decided to form a breakaway European league – which they’ve threatened to before – then UEFA’s Champions League competition will be devalued and all of the money it generates will go to the G14 clubs.
All of this could have been avoided when these regulations were about to be published in April – perhaps UEFA just didn’t think it would be needed.