The decision by UEFA to allow Liverpool, Champions of Europe, to defend the title by entering at the earliest possible stage has been officially welcomed by Liverpool. There are already calls for Liverpool to boycott the Super Cup in protest. Ultimately though the English FA are to blame for the situation, and their lack of foresight could see England co-efficient rating reduced and before too long England will only be allowed three clubs in the competition. The FA were supposed to have taken the honourable decision, as taken in 2000 by the Spanish FA, but decided to take a risk. On the surface they’ll claim the risk paid off – in reality that wasn’t to be.
Rick Parry’s official, public stance came on the official Liverpool FC website, where he said: "We welcome the decision to allow us in the competition next season. We wish to express our thanks to all those who supported us and campaigned on our behalf. We will now consider the implications this will have on the pre-season training camp and Japanese tour."
Plenty of people have had plenty to say. Despite a broken foot, Didi Hamann is still on a high from earning his winners medal and getting a new Anfield contract. He’s just glad to get another chance: "It`s tremendous for the club and we`re delighted to be in there. We start pre-season on June 27 and we`ve got two or three weeks to get us into physical shape for the first round. We`ll do our best. We`ve got to go through the qualifying rounds and we`ll do our best to defend the trophy."
Reds legend David Fairclough, himself a European hero, said: "I`m disappointed by the decision. To me it sounds like UEFA are giving more prestige to finishing third in La Liga or Serie A than actually winning their own competition. That`s the only analogy I can draw and I don`t think UEFA have been bold enough. Liverpool as a club knew they would have problems when they finished outside the top four. But having won it I would have expected a little more generosity from UEFA. They have given Liverpool the smallest crumb imaginable."
UEFA president Lennart Johansson admitted they’d made a mistake. He probably wasn’t referring to the mistake of expecting Liverpool to start competitive football again so early to add to the additional burden of Super Cup and World Championship games in the season prior to the next World Cup. Didi Hamann will be glad he broke his foot now, otherwise he’d have to fit a Confederations Cup tournament in for Germany too. Other Liverpool players were still playing last week – on international duty. Johansson said: "We are like most people, we make mistakes. When we formulated the regulations we didn’t think of the possibility of a side outside the top four in the big nations winning the Champions League." Even though the regulations were only "ratified" in April of this year? Johansson didn’t mention that bit, but he said: "We have tried to correct it for the future and took a decision which may be criticised but has been welcomed in most quarters. If you make an error you try not to repeat it in the future – you try to correct it and take a decision which will be accepted by the absolute majority."
A view from a Reds fan? Les Lawson is the spokesman for the Liverpool International Supporters’ Club. He said the Reds have been "treated with contempt". He said: "We are being treated like nobodies. We deserve to be treated with some respect and put into the third qualifier."
Lee Carsley used to play for the Republic of Ireland. Nowadays he’s a member of the internationally renowned Everton midfield. Carsley, a European expert, said: “I think if you win the trophy then you should have the right to defend it, so I suppose it is fair. It is definitely right that they have to go through qualifying because they are getting in by default. I wouldn’t like to get them in the qualifying round because they are obviously a very good team but it would be nice to get them in the group stages if we were both to qualify."
Meanwhile the Premier League spoke on the issue. Never sure if they are part of the FA or not – they have "FA" as part of their name, but don’t always act with the FA. They are in a separate reality altogether now. They want Manchester City to have Everton’s UEFA Cup place: "We are very pleased for Liverpool and in many ways Uefa have taken a brave and correct decision. However, we do not feel this should have been at the expense of the English game’s third Uefa Cup place, nor the Champions League pool as distributed between the four qualified clubs. As a result, we will be asking the FA to formally renominate Bolton, Middlesbrough and Manchester City in the three Uefa Cup places allocated to the English game."
Back to some views from ex-players:
Alan Kennedy: "Benitez will have to spend probably double what he intended with 55-60 games next season and I feel that coming in at the first stage diminishes where Liverpool finished in the Champions League. They won it, so they should be entitled to be in at the third qualifying round. This can only hamper Liverpool’s chances later in the season with so many more games to play."
Phil Neal: "They’re already scheduled to come back for pre-season training on June 27 so it will make it a very long season. We’ve got the World Club Championship and the European Super Cup, so he’s going to need a bigger squad."
Phil Thompson: "Rafa may have to have a re-think over his pre-season plans. But the players will not object to extra games because if it was a choice between this or playing in the UEFA Cup I know what every player would take."