Should Wild Card Berths Be Offered in the Europa League to Teams Like Man United and AC Milan?

Il Benfica Lancia Clamorose Accuse: "La UEFA Vuole La Juventus in Finale Di Europa League!"

At the start of next season, two of the biggest powerhouses in Europe will be missing from continental soccer altogether. Manchester United and AC Milan tried to qualify for the UEFA Europa League, but both fell short in the final matches of their respective league campaigns.

In numerous sports, wild cards can be awarded to players/teams failing to qualify through normal means, usually at the discretion of the governing body. It is definitely in UEFA’s interests to ensure as many ‘big clubs’ as possible are competing in a competition that rarely garners the attention it deserves.

Currently, UEFA grants the top three associations of the UEFA Respect Fair Play ranking an additional berth each. The system is inherently flawed, as the ‘fairest’ teams are not always rewarded. For example, Fulham was only fourth in the fair play table when they gained entry in 2011-12, as the three teams above them have already qualified for European competition.

A ‘fair’ club would also be overlooked if the league they play in is not among the ‘fairest’ in Europe. It’s no surprise that teams that have qualified through this path have rarely been competitive in the Europa League.

Giving cup winners (or runners up) a spot in Europe is a good way of rewarding a cup run, but this comes at the expense of teams finishing well in the league – depending on the cup winners, teams finishing 6th in Europe’s top leagues can still miss out on the Europa League. If UEFA can award the three Fair Play berths to clubs with deserving positions in the league table instead, it would certainly add to the quality of the tournament.

Wouldn’t this be unfair to those already qualified for the competition through conventional means? Not exactly – wild card teams should start their campaign from the first qualifying round, just like those currently qualifying through the Fair Play rankings. In this way, the wild cards would have to go through 23 matches in order to lift the trophy – no one could accuse a team of being undeserving after managing that.

If Manchester United were to gain a berth in the first qualifying round of next season’s Europa League (see suggested wild card entrants below), that would generate considerable buzz for the competition before the quarter finals of the 2014 World Cup have even started. Even if Manchester United are to be eliminated in the Round of 16 just like two seasons ago, that would still represent nine extra home games for the season.

It is not hard to conceive an average attendance reaching about 65,000, which would represent a hefty amount of revenue even for a club of this stature. ITV, on the other hand, would be more than happy to have 18 live games involving what remains the most-watched soccer club in Britain.

Nevertheless, there are potential embarrassments for UEFA if a club offered a wild card berth refuses to enter the Europa League. Therefore, wild cards should only be awarded to clubs that have applied for a place. Those are clubs with the willingness and squad depth to go through the extra midweek games. UEFA can then cherry pick teams based on their league position, ‘big name’ factors and so on. This would be immensely beneficial to the Europa League, the clubs and the broadcasters. It is just a surprise that UEFA has not already gone with it.

18 thoughts on “Should Wild Card Berths Be Offered in the Europa League to Teams Like Man United and AC Milan?”

  1. When I first read the headline I was immediately against this idea, however if replacing the ‘Fair Play’ places with these wild cards in the First Qualifying round, it would only increase how competitive this tournament is. Also the 2014-15 Europa League season is the first one to off the winner a spot in next season’s Champions League, if I’m not mistaken.

    1. I should probably clarify that I would totally be for this concept if the Wild Card spots were awarded to the three teams with the highest UEFA coefficient that have not already qualified.

  2. Clever. I like it. I’m sure a lot of people will hate the idea. But, the majority of people watching on TV are more interesting in seeing clubs like United and Milan play than they are in seeing the runner-up of the Danish Cup.

    I’d never want to see the Champion’s League do this because that is a competition for finding out who is “the best”, but Europa League isn’t about finding “the best”. It’s just a competition for some of the pretty good clubs from Europe to mix it up against someone other than the same old clubs they play every season AND to build a TV product that advertisers will support. No reason not to enhance both.

  3. They weren’t good enough this year so we should just let them in anyway?
    With all due respect to the author, the level of entitlement underlying this mentality is galling.

    The big clubs already have every advantage over the sun. If they can’t capitalize on it, that’s on them.

    1. Totally agree, Why should they be qualified just because they have a BIG name.

      This article doesn’t make sense at all.

  4. Past performance is no indication of present success. If a team cannot finish in the CL places in their leagues then they should not be in it. The idea of the CL is to get the best teams from each European league to be in the tournament. Yes, some leagues are better than others but having teams from “lesser” leagues makes the tournament more interesting. Keep it as is. United and Milan need to earn the right. No wildcard berths for me.

    1. Placing in a particular range of spots at the end of the season is something that makes the end of the season matter for so many teams. If you get it, you are in. If not, no Europa League.

      Adding wild cards steals this tension. Forget about adding wild cards for teams that some would think they belong simply because of inertia.

  5. So let me understand. Manchester United and Milan both had mediocre seasons BECAUSE they were just that, BUT they should be given “wildcards” BECAUSE they are “BIG” clubs?

    Why stand on ceremony? Let’s just give the “biggest” clubs automatic berths REGARDLESS of what they accomplished during the season?

    Why stop there – let’s give the “biggest” clubs a straight berth into the knockout stage, with another wildcard given to struggling former cup winners like Notts Forest, and before a ball is even kicked – just hand the trophy to Real Madrid during a euro-vision type show.

    Think of all the excitement it would cause before and after the World Cup.

    Is your last name Glazer by any chance?

  6. I don’t know if the author is a Man Utd fan or not but most of you just seem to be missing the point.

    Europa League is a parody of a tournament, they need to do anything they can to make it interesting. Having some kind of “biggest clubs” ranking and making sure they are in the Europa league at least makes sense for the tournament.

    I believe either this year or next they are dropping the thing where CL failures go in the EL, that is good. But having big teams in is good for most people, small teams that get to play them, overall tournament prestige, competition (because the winners are always big teams anyway).

    I suspect Hull are very fearful of what the EL could do to them next season.

  7. I’m against this completely but United definitely deserve to play in Europe more than the likes of Levski Sofia and Sparta Prague.

    1. If that were the case, we’d be there. We’re not.

      I think the opening paragraph of the article says it all. Tried, fell short.

      Both United and Milan get all of next year to prove it was only a one-off. In the man time, I’ll watch Aberdeen play… I don’t know. Whomever. Doesn’t matter. They earned it.


  8. I have a better idea. Why not just put all the BIG clubs in the CL and forget about qualifying altogether. Just have the same BIG clubs season after season and forget all about the little clubs.

    In fact it should be a rule that BIG clubs only play other BIG clubs.

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