UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino announced yesterday that the winners of the Europa League will qualify for the Champions League starting in the 2015/2016 season.
This is a big deal. Both the Europa League and the Champions league are European tournaments reserved for the best club teams on the continent, but as we've said before, if the Champions League is analogous to the NCAA basketball tournament, then the Europa League is the NIT. The Europa League is thought by many of the bigger clubs to be a consolation cup, and their penalty for underperforming in their domestic season or getting ousted early in the Champions League.
Often, the Thursday night Europa League games are seen as a distraction from domestic league matches, because until now, the only way for teams to qualify to the favored, more prestigious Champions League was to finish in the top three or four in their domestic league or win the tournament outright the season before. If you remember, that's how English club Chelsea were able to compete in the Champions League this year, even though they finished sixth in the Premier League last season.
Now, though, there's more to play for in the Europa League than just an automatic qualification to next year's Europa League. Save for some rare circumstances, the Europa League winner will bypass the CL knockout round and breeze right through to the Champions League group stage.
The Europa League will be perceived as a consolation cup as long as Champions League teams that get knocked out early can still go on to play in the Europa League, but this move brings adds more weight and importance for European soccer's NIT. And it'll ostensibly bring in more viewers and money, too. Imagine if something was actually riding on the NIT championship game. You'd watch. Maybe. Fox Soccer with details:
Infantino did not confirm the full details, but it is understood that Europa League winners and Champions League winners will no longer take a place from the domestic leagues if they finish outside of the Champions League qualifying spots.
Five clubs will be a maximum however. In the unlikely event of two clubs fromthe same country winning the Champions League and Europa League and both finishing outside of the domestic qualifying places, then those would still qualify for the Champions League but the side finishing fourth would miss out.
There's a Spurs joke in there somewhere, but I'll leave you to it.