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Should the Premiership Have Playoffs?


There are those out there who believe the answer to the question is a resounding “no”; in fact, the vast majority of people I talk to are firmly against the concept of playoffs in the Premiership.

I hear the same arguments all the time: “Every game means something in the Premiership; it’s not like the regular season in American sports, which counts for nothing” or “No, we don’t need playoffs. The best team at the end of 38 games wins, and that’s that” or “No, it goes against the tradition of the league”.

You’ve all talked to people about this. It’s a debate that pops up every now and again and gets shot down by the mass media every single time. They give you the same reasons for why a playoff structure shouldn’t exist.

It’s about time, though, that you heard the reasons FOR why the most exciting league in the world should have playoffs at the end of the year. Later on in this post, I’ll describe my perfect system and explain how it would work.

1. First off, the “every game means something” argument is complete and utter rubbish. A certain host of World Soccer Daily feeds the audience that cliché every time when ripping the MLS and saying how it will never be more than a third-tier league, much less as good as the Premiership.

I’ll tell you what, folks, that argument is invalid. By mid-February of each year, the only teams playing for anything are the teams fighting it out for the title (usually two or three), trying to avoid relegation (usually two or three), and the teams contesting the UEFA Cup spots (usually two or three). That leaves anywhere between 11-14 teams that have, for all intents and purposes, packed it in for the season with two and a half months of games left to play.

Think about it. When’s the last time you saw West Ham and Tottenham actually play with any sense of urgency this season? Teams like Middlesbrough, Blackburn, Manchester City, and Newcastle were all confined to mid-table mediocrity a while ago. The whole glut of mid-table teams make up the majority of teams in the league, and they go overlooked because they’re not playing competitive games for the last quarter of the season.

What motivation do those teams have to show up every week? They’re just playing out the string, which isn’t necessarily for their fault, and it’s a disservice to the loyal fans who have to pay exorbitant ticket prices to watch flat, stale performances at the end of the year.

Having a playoff system would negate this. Teams would be fighting it out tooth and nail until the last day to get into the playoffs, and it would prohibit managers from playing second-string teams at the end like they do now.

2. Let’s face it, the Premiership is in need of an electric shock-type revitalization. The same four teams finish in the top four every single year and only two or three of them have any hope of winning the title in any given season because the other/s are down, though still good enough to finish in a Champions League place.

Granted, most fans of the Premiership are fans of those four clubs, but it’s extremely boring and predictable for the other 16 teams (80%) of the league. The same teams shouldn’t be at the top every season. It has become a huge accomplishment to finish 5th these days and it’s almost unheard of for any team to break the stranglehold of the “Big Four”. When the most exciting race every year is at the bottom, and not the top, you know something is wrong.

Making the playoffs would become a more reasonable feat for clubs and provide something for the other 16 teams in the league to shoot for. We know that because of economics, the other 16 in the Premiership will never reach the status of the “Big Four”, but anything could happen in the playoffs and at least for one season, the smaller clubs could enjoy a triumph over the big boys.

3. As I just touched on briefly, it gives the little guys a chance and an escape from perennial mediocrity. In a typical season, Middlesbrough’s 29th game may be basically meaningless and there would very likely be a small crowd at the Riverside. With a playoff system, though, those three points would be huge because Middlesbrough would be no sure thing to make the playoffs and they’d need every single point they can get. This, in turn, would create a better atmosphere because the game has that much more meaning. Mid-table teams would have their own little race to get in instead of settling for where they are and shutting it down with multiple games to go.

Instead of playing out the string in front of small crowds with little enthusiasm, you’re playing to make the playoffs and get a shot at one of the big boys, with one game at your field if you make it to the quarterfinals. Playoffs ensure that the teams fighting to get there don’t take games off and it eliminates the apathy that we see at the end of the season nowadays.

4. The intensity, atmosphere, and passion that would be found in the playoffs would be great — think Liverpool’s Champions League nights at Anfield. If you watched their game today against City, sure, there was some chanting, but I couldn’t count the times I saw close-up shots of the crowd and there were so many quiet people with their hands on their chins, just sitting there and watching the game. I don’t want to see that, and we wouldn’t if there was the possibility of playoffs after the regular season.

If you’ve ever seen any playoff games in professional sports here in the US, everything just goes up a notch. The players have more of a bounce in their step, the fans are louder, the stadiums are raucous, and the game itself is just a better one. It’s hard to qualify in words unless you’ve seen it, but trust me on this one, you’d rather have playoffs than watch Blackburn’s last 10 games of the season with nothing to play for after that.

OK, so, here’s my playoff proposal:

• 12 teams (1-12 after 38 regular season league games) based on points

• Top three teams automatically go to the Champions League, with the fourth CL place and the Premiership trophy given to the team that wins the playoffs. If that team finished in the top three during the regular season, then the CL place would be given to the playoff runner-up. This provides incentive to finish in the top three after 38 games, as well as give something meaningful to the playoff winner.

• Top four teams get a “first-round bye”, with team #5 playing #12, #6-#11, #7-#10, and #8-#9. After that first round, team #1 would play the lowest remaining seed, team #2 would play the second-lowest remaining seed, then team #3, then team $4 playing the highest remaining seed in the quarterfinal round.

• All first-round games are one-offs, with the games being played at the higher seeds’ stadiums. No away goals rule, extra time is two 15-minute halves (golden goal), and then PK’s.

• All quarterfinal round games are two-legged ties, with the higher seed hosting the second leg. No away goals rule, extra time is two 15-minute halves (golden goal), and then PK’s.

• For the semifinals, the highest remaining seed would play the lowest remaining seed, and then the two middle teams would play. Again, two-legged ties; higher seed has second leg at their ground. No away goals rule, extra time is two 15-minute halves (golden goal), and then PK’s

• The two winners of the semifinals would play in the final, a one-off game at the venue of the higher seed. No away goals rule, extra time is two 15-minute halves (golden goal), and then PK’s.

How would this work? Well, the weekend after the season ends, the first round would start. Two of the games would take place Saturday, and then the other two would be played Sunday.

The quarterfinals would begin the next midweek, with the Sunday winners playing their top four opponents on Wednesday and the Saturday winners doing the same on Tuesday. For the second leg, the teams playing on Tuesday would go at it again on Saturday, and the teams playing on Wednesday would finish their tie on Sunday.

The semifinals would follow the same model, with the winners of the Wednesday/Sunday games playing the next Wednesday/Sunday, and the winners of the Tuesday/Saturday games playing the next Tuesday/Saturday.

The final would then be held at the highest remaining seed on the Saturday after the semifinals conclude.

All in all, it would add on a month to the end of the season while giving the teams involved an adequate amount of rest.

You can argue that the teams who have already clinched playoff spots will simply rest players towards the end of the year like they do now, and I understand that to a degree. However, the battle for seeding and having the second leg at home or the one-off game at home, as well as the fight for the three automatic Champions League spots, should negate managers from doing that.

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  1. John

    May 26, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    This sounds interesting but i dont think Uefa would aggree as each league is limited to a certain amount of teams being promoted to either an automatic spot or a qualigying spot in the champions league.

    And surely the team at the end of 38 games which has scored the most goals and defended the best to concede the least amount deserves recognition……….

  2. Michael

    May 9, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Ray, the problem is that it IS broke.

    Goal difference, by the way, is not sufficient, it is a dumb, semantical concept that should not be the first tiebreaker.

  3. Ray Horner

    May 9, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    Re: E.P.L. Playoffs:
    What a stupid idea! No!,Never!; what’s the point?
    38 games is enough to decide a champion and the goal difference is sufficient to break a tie.
    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

  4. Michael

    May 6, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    You said it Lonnie, this has been a great debate.

    I think the most common solution we’ve come up with is that the champion should be determined after 38 games, but the CL and UEFA Cup places could be won in some sort of playoff format much like the Dutch League does it. It seems like most people agree that something has to be done to shake the current system up, but to what degree and how that shake up would be formatted is the great debate.

  5. Lonnie

    May 6, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Personally I think the idea of totally scrapping the reward for being consistent through the season is a poor one.

    This has been a good debate and I’m not picking on you personally Michael but something you posted struck me: “I like my champions as teams who can rise to the occasion on a big night. I like the teams who can show up when it truly, truly matters most. No one will ever convince me that every game means the same; you can’t tell me that the 13th game of the year is the most important as the last one, and I like teams who are able to turn it on at the end of the year for that stretch run.”

    What about the team that plays consistently and wins matches against any or all opposition. The Liverpool side of the last couple seasons would mop up after having rested through ‘nothing’ league games against Wigan and the like.

    What I would say to that argument is that if the league games are essentially going to be made less meaningful then why play them at all? Just make the league a big cup runoff and be done with it. Playoffs have their use but at what cost?

    In the NHL, only half the teams are eliminated after the end of the regular season. They then play another two months to decide a champion. Hockey in June? It’s ridiculous.

    Even baseball has gotten a bit overblown with the playoff format. The divisional champions are rewarded with very little after a grueling 162 game schedule.

    Clearly, a compromise would be a better way to go.

    I much prefer the idea that the title still goes to the team that accumulates the most points over the course of the season. This ensures some integrity to the regular season. Let the playoffs settle the “money” positions for European play and I would also adopt the Dutch relegation/promotion playoff system. The more I look at it, the more it makes sense.

    I know Kartik advocates the Mexican league system but being relegated only after a second poor season seems a bit too generous. If your poor, then you need to step aside and rebuild. Can you imagine Derby County staying up for another season. Good lord, what would be the point? Not to be too harsh to the club but even if they did stay up due to the “mexican rules” what would they accomplish next season? They could finish 10th and probably be relegated anyway.

  6. Simon

    May 6, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Still disagree with you on the teams, Sunderland and Boro were still in the mire at the end of April – and Portsmouth had they won this weekend would have been 2 points off of 5th with one to play – thats very much something to play for. Man City also were in for 5th until they collapsed against Fulham in a great game.

    As for Boro – yes in the past they are typically well clear but they werent this year. West Ham and Spurs certainly have been the best examples of teams doing nothing all year but no way I can allow teams outside the top 8 into a playoff system. 12 out of 20 is just too many.

    I think your idea has merit though, I think Kevin Keegan echoed your sentiments last night without offering a solution. I love numbers and stats and certainly think the format can be worked with as its not perfect but I know the FA wont ever do anything unless the big teams ask for it – this is bad unfortunately.

    I don like the MLS play off system – being a DC United fan I got to see DC choke last year after being dominant through the league – if there was any system of playoffs I could somewhat endorse it would be baseball as so few qualify but thats getting away from trying to keep everyone involved at the end.

    Maybe reducing the size from 20 to 18 would help and may having relegation playoffs and more UEFA qualification playoffs would help – I dont know. A champion should be a champion though, you win the league and you shouldnt have to face the prospect of one bad ref decision or a penalty shoot out loss to take that all away from you.

  7. Dave's Football Blog

    May 6, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Re: Comment 43 — UEFA Cup qualifiers change more often than Champions League qualifiers. Yes, Everton and Tottenham get there often, but Bolton, Middlesbrough and Newcastle have been there recently as well. So I don’t really buy the argument that you need more than 4 teams competing for the final Champions League spot. You want to reward success, not mediocrity.

    Plus, you want to create something that both fans and clubs can accept. A 4-thru-7 playoff is much easier to swallow than a full-on playoff, because there are promotion playoffs just like that all throughout the lower English leagues. However, these playoffs don’t decide the league champion, only the final promotion spot. Likewise, a 4-thru-7 playoff for the final Champions League spot wouldn’t discredit regular-season success. The league champ is still the champ, and the top three still go directly to the CL group stage.

    There’s also the fact that an MLS Cup-style playoffs in the Premier League would add a month to an already long schedule. Maybe you could get away with that if you pulled the Premier League out of the Football League Cup and just let the fizzy drink divisions play for that, but it’s still too big a jump for most fans to swallow.

  8. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Gotta be honest with you Sanjay, I think it’s the second one, at least it is for me.

    I like my champions as teams who can rise to the occasion on a big night. I like the teams who can show up when it truly, truly matters most. No one will ever convince me that every game means the same; you can’t tell me that the 13th game of the year is the most important as the last one, and I like teams who are able to turn it on at the end of the year for that stretch run.

  9. Sanjay

    May 5, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    I guess it all comes down to a simple question/argument:
    —- Do you reward a team for being consistent throughout and doing very well for over 30 weeks?
    —-Or, do you reward a team for getting it done, when it matters the most. For winning during the business end of the season, clutch time??

    Personally, I think it should be the first, but then thats just me. What do all of you’ll think..?

  10. Eric

    May 5, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Dump the current Carling Cup format for something like this postseason playoff plan.

    You still give Full Honors to the Season Champion as current, runner-up gets direct pass into CL. The Champ and Runners up are less motivated, however, it will be a seperate piece of hardware to vie for, the Champ wanting to prove it again, the others wanting the chance to knock them off and hoist a trophy . . .

    Current Carling Cup set-up couldn’t be less intersting, as most big clubs send their youth out and a loss is not a huge fan dis-appointment. If this were in place this year, do you think that the 2nd place (ManU or Chelsea) wouldn’t love the opportunity for revenge? Remeber, they won’t be meeting in the CL final every year.

  11. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Simon, here’s why I listed the four teams you argued shouldn’t have been there:

    Yes, mathematically Sunderland and Middlesbrough just recently became safe, but we’ve known that they were going to be safe for a month now because there were teams just that much worse below them. Take a look at Middlesbrough’s recent history, and they’ve basically checked out around the three-quarter mark every year because they’re mid-table, and you can say the same for other teams as well (Newcastle, Blackburn, Man City).

    Why did I list Portsmouth? Because ever since they made it to the FA Cup Final, they’ve taken their foot off the gas in the league and are playing for Europe solely through that final. They’ve had an outside shot at fifth, but they haven’t been playing competitive league games since winning their semifinal.

    Same for Manchester City, who only just passed an apathetic Portsmouth team this weekend. Again, mathematically City were in with a shout for fifth, but they’ve had three or four teams in between them and Everton and they haven’t really been playing for a while now either.

    You mentioned the NFL and everyone knows that the Patriots were the best team in the league last season. With that said, they couldn’t get the job done when it mattered most. Sorry, if you can’t rise to the occasion and play your best, you don’t deserve to win no matter how well you played during the regular season.

    You and I do agree that this will never happen, although I think if you would’ve asked someone ten years ago if Game 39 would happen at some point, they’d laugh it off and send you to the asylum. You made good points in what some of the problems in the game are right now and I couldn’t agree more with them, but another is the fact that the league has become stale at the top with the same teams winning over and over just because they have rich owners and more money to spend on talent. Why not just divide the Premiership into two leagues — the “Big Four” and the rest? That’s basically what it is now and I’m afraid if something isn’t done about it, it’s going to stay that way because the TV money and Champions League bonus money basically all goes to the big teams. My proposal is to make the league less about the top four and more about the twenty teams as a group.

  12. Simon Burke

    May 5, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Interesting one this – I see the sentiment behind it and whereas I disagree and more importantly know it will never happen, I think the idea is well thought out.

    One thing Michael – how many teams to you think have nothing to play for at the end?
    I’ll list what you list:
    Portsmouth (in the league)
    Manchester City
    West Ham

    Sunderland and Boro got out of trouble within the last week so that excludes them.
    Man City and Portsmouth have only just been excluded from 5th – Pompey blew it this Saturday. I’d say your list there is really 5. Boro werent clear by the 29th game as you mention above in a typcial season.

    Some fella aboves mentions the Patriots and Giants – he’s right. The Giants negated the whole
    NFL Season to me – they split a game each but the Pats lost only one game and have really nothing to show for it. The GIants were lucky to even be in the playoffs and won it all. They arent the best team.
    At least 3 teams competed for the title this year, and Liverpool should have – thats an improvement over recent years. I wouldnt change the league structure.

    If people were to do it and the TOP TWELVE qualified that would be too many. Christ, if a club like Wigan put together a decent run of penalty shoot out wins they’d win it. This wouldnt be good for anyone outside of Wigan (sorry Wigan fans).

    Of all the ills in football I dont think this is the worst right now – diving, agents, high prices, defensive football, Mike Reilly being allowed to ref at Old Trafford – these are the real crisis’…

  13. Kartik

    May 5, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Well I doubt Gerrard will be the captain of England, if he is clearly Capello is a fool.

  14. Alex Hleb

    May 5, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    you can never win with steven gerrard as your potential captain, thats why we didnt make the euros.

    i know i know they won the champions league but that was one time. one time out of many. one time!

  15. Alex Hleb

    May 5, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    et pardon ma francais mais j’aime regarder un peu de foot francais aussi.

    i also enjoy the dutch league, all clogs aside.

  16. Alex Hleb

    May 5, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    i follow la liga.

  17. Kartik

    May 5, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Alex Hleb,

    You seem to have a fun time personalizing every argument. What ails you? Another trophy less Arsenal season, or something else? You disagree with Michael as most people do. That’s fine, but your rambling responses here about the MPL.

    In addition above you mis characterize completely what Americans who are engaged in this sport think.

    Alex Hleb, do you follow any FIFA sanctioned first divisions outside of England?

    I suggest you broaden your horizons before shooting the messenger time and time again. Perhaps if you and other Anglo snobs were more open to new thinking England wouldn’t be sitting at home this summer during the Euros.

  18. Dave M

    May 5, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    re: ad hominem, mea culpa.

  19. Alex Hleb

    May 5, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    would the MPL also have playoffs for relegation as well?
    And a play off for who gets to visit the queen for tea at the end of the season.

  20. Kartik

    May 5, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    You guys can bash this idea all you want and I am usually very critical of MLS as some recent posts on my website indicate, posts now being discredited by the legion of MLS apologists over at Big Soccer, BUT:

    Last season the MLS lucked out and got a game on the very last game of the regular season between the two teams fighting for the last playoff spot. The game was placed last on the calender because it also featured the two biggest MLS signings of the year. David Beckham, for the hype and Blanco for the substance and his ability to bring Mexican and Club America fans to MLS once and for all.

    MLS has in its thirteen year history provided one boring match after another with some moments of brilliance in between but generally not the sort of gripping excitement European or Mexican football provides.

    This game however was brilliant, and as gripping as any match all year long in football, other than Iraq’s Asian Cup triumph which super ceded all.. Toyota Park was over flowing and loud as could be. Fire fans stood and sang the whole match and game ended with a stoppage time goal by John Thorrington, late of Man U and Bolton which saw the Fire through.

    Without a playoffs system that game would have been a completely meaningless last weekend game where the park may have been half empty, with two teams that like many of their counterparts in the PL would have checked out on the season.

    Inspite of tradition, a case can be made for playoffs in this sport.

  21. Alex Hleb

    May 5, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    the MPL.

    will there be a 39th game in the MPL?

    with an eastern and western conference, and four divisions-
    geordies, mackems,smoggies like-

    Scousers like-
    Manchester United
    Manchester City

    Brum and what not-
    Aston Villa

    Cockney Blokes-
    West Ham


    There would also be an allstar game.
    It would be the World against the Geezers.
    Cristiano Ronaldo as striker with Eboue on the right. Imagine the possobilities,

  22. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    It’s a debate that could go on forever and ever, so I mean nothing will ever really be solved either way. As Liverpool John said, I just wanted to provoke thoughts about some options to make this league more exciting than it is. In terms of the excitement and passion of the games on the field, the league is second-to-none, but the same teams are winning those games for the most part, so I’m just trying to think of new ways to make it more inclusive.

    Just to touch on your last point about relegation, I wouldn’t touch that at all. If there was a 12-team playoff as well as the current format of three teams getting relegated, that would leave only five teams stuck in the middle as opposed to the 10 or so (give or take one) that we have now. I said it in my post and was echoed by a commenter, I think there’s something structurally wrong when in most years, the battle to determine who ISN’T the worst team is more exciting and gets more attention then the race at the top. Having a playoff would allow a fight at the top while keeping that same heartache and nervousness a relegation battle provides, so it’d be the best of both worlds in that regard.

  23. jm

    May 5, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Perhaps the “big four” thing does have something to do with it. But there is a key distinction between two positions:

    1) Wanting the league to determine the best team because it has sporting value.

    2) Wanting the league to determine the best team because one’s own team is one of the best.

    Now, I’m probably not neutral enough for (2) to not be a reason at all. I am undoubtedly swayed by my interest in Arsenal’s success.

    I also, however, support measures to change some aspects of the financial structure of the league in order to prevent the punishments of relegation and the boons of Europe to lead diminished competition.

    Tournaments are great. I am also a fan of the NY Giants, and loved every minute of our victory over the Patriots in the NFL. Were we the best team? Nope. But we played the best for a few days, and that was good enough. Playoffs are great fun. Yet, in most American sports you have to choose between a playoff structure (which rewards the team of the moment) and a league championship (rewards the team of the season). The great advantage of the EPL is that one does not have to choose due to the tradition behind the FA Cup. This allows for both the thrill of tournament style competition, but also the long, bitter struggle to determine the best team.

    This is all to support the claim that the champion should be determined by the league format. I have no real view on whether or not a playoff would be good for the final European few spots, or for the relegation spots. I have not yet settled my opinions on how it would effect the financial intricacies and intrigues of relegation.

  24. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Good points, Liverpool John.

  25. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Oh and just to clarify, by making “noise”, I don’t mean in terms of sound, I mean they would be capable of making a deep run backed by their boisterous crowds

  26. Liverpool John

    May 5, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    This is a thought provoking post of some merit.

    I think Kartik’s point is well taken as is Soccer Guru’s.

    One point though, Kartik. Mexico is very much reared in American thought even though obviously futbol is their national sport. As far as I know they have always had playoffs. The Dutch example however maybe more valid in comparison to England.

    You are right Kartik about the WSD crowd forcing MLS to make changes. Either MLS should like Mexico make their playoffs all binding or dump them completely. Right now the MLS system of dual champions is confusing. While the MLS Cup winner is technically the champion, the regular season, supporters shield winner gets all the same perks, so again they are trying to satisfy both the WSD listeners and the American press and doing a bad job of both.

    As a Liverpool supporter I’d love to see a one off to determine a champion. Maybe then we’d actually have a chance!

  27. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    And as for the idea proposed by Dave’s Football Blog, I’d be in support of that idea, but I think more teams would still need to be involved because as your proposal stands, it’s still only the Champions League and UEFA Cup teams. That still doesn’t account for the stream of meaningless games played by mid-table teams at the end of the year, many of which have loyal, passionate, vocal fan bases (Newcastle, Spurs this year, Manchester City, etc.) and could make noise in a playoff environment.

  28. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    As I said, you did make some good points, but I think most of the people who are against it are fans of the “Big Four” and don’t want to see their position challenged by one of the smaller clubs.

    It’s the attitude of superiority and entitlement that angers me, and I took it out on you, Dave, instead of the clubs that run the top of the table every year.

    Once again, sorry for doing that, and I did honestly mean it when I said thanks for the feedback, I do appreciate it.

  29. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Again, fair enough fellas, I did lose my cool a little bit there, I’ll admit it.

    My apologies, Dave.

    I try not to be baited usually but this time, I gave in.

  30. jm

    May 5, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Why the ad hominem response to Dave’s post?

    I too think his finishing line, asking for your “blogging credentials” to be revoked to be of poor form. It was ad hominem – it attacked you rather than your ideas. And as any student of an introductory class on critical thinking will tell you, an attack on the person offering the argument cannot stand in for an attack on the argument.

    Whether one is a supporter of one of the “big four” clubs does not undermine their argument. It is not an argument from authority. The team that Dave supports has no bearing whatsoever on the cogency of his arguments. I think Michael generally does an admirable job ignoring those posts which are offensive and responding to some of the substantive points; but I entreat you not to stoop to such poor argumentative tactics!

  31. Dave M

    May 5, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Losing your cool a bit, Michael? How did “fair argument – thanks for the feedback” become “stop talking and give it a rest” in the space of 9 min.s?

    ….and only fans of mediocre clubs need comment on the brilliant MPL playoff proposal??

  32. Dave's Football Blog

    May 5, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    As a lifelong fan of American sports, I have to say that I actually like the fact that the Premier League doesn’t have end-of-season playoffs to determine the champion. Yes, it results in a lot of meaningless games at the end of the season, but guess what? There are plenty of meaningless games at the end of the NFL regular season, too. Creating playoffs won’t necessarily change that.

    However, I would propose my own playoff idea here: Put the 4th-place through 7th-place teams into a playoff to determine the who gets the final Champions League spot.

    As of next season, the top three PL clubs go directly to the group stage, while the 4th-place club enters the qualifying rounds. I would suggest 4th-place isn’t good enough to get an automatic bid, even to the qualifying rounds. Make that club earn the prize. This would be similar to the promotion playoffs in the lower leagues, and I think fans could accept this more readily than an American-style playoff system.

    I suggest this because it’s plainly obvious that the FA will never give a Champions League bid to the FA Cup winner, even if it would help that tournament seem much more important than it is now.

  33. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Dave, let me ask you something.

    What team do you support?

    By your complete opposal to a playoff system, I’m going to guess one of the “Big Four”. That would make sense that you’re so against it, because your team would be threatened by one of the “little guys” and we just can’t have that, now can we? How dare someone outside of the “Big Four” challenge to win something or crack the top four! They have no right to do that, it’s Manchester United’s and Liverpool’s birth right to go to the Champions League every single year!

    If you are a fan of one of those teams, just stop talking and give it a rest. Talk about “self-serving” interests..

  34. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 10:23 am

    And as for the teams who haven’t had anything to play for in a while, here they are:

    Portsmouth (in the league)
    Manchester City
    West Ham

    That’s almost half of the league. As I said in my last comment, this year has been an outlier with the multiple teams involved in the relegation battle as that usually isn’t the case. Do you really want to watch one-sided games between teams who have nothing to play for and teams that do? Do you really want to watch games between two teams that are just playing out the string? That’s what the playoff concept does; it forces teams to play until they’ve been eliminated from contention and with a 12-team structure, that would only happen to the bottom teams, but they’d still be fighting to avoid relegation so you’d have drama up and down the table.

  35. Michael

    May 5, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Fair argument Dave, but one that is a little bit shot down by the fact that as Soccer Guru mentioned, the Dutch league does have playoffs, and my “2-3” estimate is generally the truth. This year has been an anomaly in that the relegation fight involved five or six teams, but the title chase has been two teams for a while now, as have the UEFA Cup places.

    Trust me, that “2-3” argument isn’t self-serving; yes, it does help prove my point, but it’s also been historically accurate in recent years.

    Again, thanks for the feedback.

  36. Soccer Guru

    May 5, 2008 at 9:23 am

    The Dutch Erevidese has a playoff system to determine who get its second Champions League and UEFA Cup births.

  37. Dave M

    May 5, 2008 at 9:14 am

    There is nothing wrong with the current structure of the Premier League (or any of the major European domestic leagues, none of which have playoffs). You, sir, are a moron.

    I am no fan of the NE Patriots, but the trouble with the American Playoff-style system (very cleverly and accurately lampooned by A. Hleb, above) is that the team that was clearly the best this year went home with practically bupkis (I don’t count an “AFC Champions” banner as very much, compared with the trophy for being THE nfl champions). For the sake of more tv $, the playoffs were expanded to include wildcards, one of which got hot at the right time to win a few games – and a team that wouldn’t have been in the top ten took home the trophy. Exciting? -maybe. But historically accurate? – no way.

    And the very basis of your argument is flawed.
    Your “2-3” estimates of how many teams are involved in the mini-battles up and down the table is self-serving to your argument (and wrong). Up until this past weekend, EIGHT teams were still in danger of relegation. There is more to keep teams focused on winning in the EPL than in any league in the US. The title, Champions League, Europe, mid-table (to save your job, if you’re a manager), survival from relegation… “2-3” is a better count of the teams that had nothing to win for, and you listed them all.

    It is a breath of fresh air to watch a league where the best team throughout the season gets the trophy. Where every match they play, does in fact mean something. And for you “March Madness / Playoff” junkies, there are the cup competitions – FA, Carling, UEFA, CL,…. that run alongside the league and have hardware all their own – multiple tropies to shoot for, what a concept.

    I enjoy leagues that have playoffs – they’re very American and tradional (here) and fun to watch even if your team packed it in months ago. But I get that playoff feeling all season long in the EPL. It clearly ain’t broke.

    Gaff, please revoke this teenager’s blogger credentials.

  38. Kartik

    May 5, 2008 at 8:43 am

    The Mexican League breaks its 18 teams into three divisions and holds relegation off for two seasons. Other leagues in Latin America are similar. The Mexican League playoffs are twice a year (Mexico has a fall and spring season) the most mad dash of games because they mean so much. They determine CONCACAF Champions League and Copa Lib bids. Those bids are not given based on the regular season unlike MLS who compromised their own playoffs system by giving a Champions League birth to the winners of each conference in the regular season partly due to drum beat of the WSD crowd you mention. Now the MLS playoffs while exciting are less important than Mexico’s and merely a beauty contest, or a way for teams not in continental competition to play in.

    The poster who mentioned playoffs in American sports is correct: the best usually does not win. That’s been the case in Mexico also and generally the case in the Championship play offs also, but they do break up the monotony of the same teams always winning.

  39. Lonnie

    May 5, 2008 at 8:33 am

    If you want an awesome playoff system, look at what the Dutch league does. They still have the first place club in the regular season crowned as champions but the CL and UEFA Cup places are determined by a playoff. Relegation and promotion are also determined similarly.

    Their system is a bit complicated to grasp at the first go but once you look it over it makes sense and it adds something to the end of the season so that you don’t get teams in the middle of the pack snoozing through the final few games. I also think it’s a nice compromise in that the team that performs the best over the course of the entire season is still rewarded and not forced into a playoff.

  40. eplnfl

    May 5, 2008 at 6:12 am

    Excellent piece. The most salient points to my eyes were that a playoffs can add some dash to the Prem, which has come down each year now to in what order will the big 4 finish.

    I would also like to raise the idea that if Man U. wins the title on goals scored this year is that a real victory. Not in my book and what happens if they then drop the CL final.

  41. ProfBalls

    May 5, 2008 at 12:46 am

    Why are WSD above being commented on, simply because they are “fans” and not journalists? That doesn’t make any sense. They are a popular media source for soccer in America, and the blog post was about a topic they have commented on. Therefore it was relevant and appropriate. It wasn’t an attack on the host but a reference to an opinion heard by many people because of the popularity of the show which was directly related to the topic.

  42. Ivan

    May 5, 2008 at 12:33 am

    TBH i’d rather Michael you not refer to WSD hosts and what they go on about cause evidently they are wrong about a lot of things (and this blog would turn into WSD feedback) as they are like us fans of the game. Not experts or even online journalists. Hopefully its a one off.

    I’ve grown up with the “finals” or “play offs” especially watching the AFL (aussie rules) as i have grown up. Teams can get hot and win the whole thing yet be second best for the regular season. Brisbane Lions won three titles in a row doing that. But football is a different sport, football is different culture there is no need to change what has been fine IMO for years. Personally don’t see it ever will happen and i would upset if it did. We have seen in champions league not always does the team that wins the tournament is the best team in Europe per se. I don’t mind if its the MLS and the A-League cause both are young leagues and are developing their niches both are in cultures where the finals are part of the norm.

  43. Alex Hleb

    May 5, 2008 at 12:05 am

    correction billesheers,

    2.ARSENAL v 7. Blackburn

    But Michael, why not just rename the EPL the APL (American Premier League) or the MPL (Michael’s Premier League)after its soon to be legend, revolution inspiring visionary Michael de EPL Blogger?

    Playoffs would be amusing. We would have to have cheerleaders on the field and unlimited substitutions and a half time show featuring Elton John as well. Every year its just Elton John. Only him, or I have to turn the tv off.

    The games would also have to be cut into 4 quarters. Instead of 90 mins, it would only ve 48 mins. There will also be timeouts.

    There would have to be a distinct organ playing through out the game . The only tune would be the american national anthem. The fans would sit in their seats through out the game and the only chant they would sing would be defense defense, BUT only when directed by the cheer leaders. In between any whistle or stoppage, either for a foul or a goal or anything else, there would be loud music playing, and there would be two minute commercial breaks.

    Every team would have a mascot, even Arsenal with a cannon that moves around the stadium shooting out t shirts.

    A week from the final there will be a draft. Of coure, we would have players quit their academies after they declare themseleves ready and be part of a special player pool for the draft, sign with an agent, sign a lucrative boot deal, and get arrested for gun possession before they even get their first touch. This player draft pool will featue any player wanting to get into the league, even those pesky africans like eboue. Maybe if that was in place before, then Eboue would have probably been applying is amazing talent in Newcastle (still praying for that to happen) rather than making outrageous mistakes for Arsenal.

    The players would all be on steroids and Crisiano Ronaldo would be sign a 300 million contract over 10 years for ManUre.


    Michael, you are a visionary, but where have we seen this before?

    and yet we cant help but watch the league every year. We and so many others continue on watching pointless games. But in a sense, isnt everything pointless? What is winning a championship in sport when you know you have to do the same over again in a year and if you dont your championship will quickly be brushed aside for the new champions. What is the point in sport if it is nothing but trained athletes performing elaborate acts memorized by their muscular and mental orientation. What is it to be a fan than when you know you have no say in you club and you know that someone else is just as likely to buy your seat and you are quickly forgotten by your club? Sport is nothing but an elaborate form of entertainment constructed by modern human culture. Its this human culture that we are born into that guides us to make our decision and arguments. It is this human created foundation of a basis for living on this planet that guides our daily lives. We are nothing but animals in nature. Hence, for our lives as well as the vary nature of existence, there is yet to be an evident point of being.

    I hope that makes sense Michael.
    What I am trying to say is that maybe there is no point in your argument since you wont end up changing anything. And then what is the point of writing it in the first place? But then again, what is the point of me writing this since I know that my point is not strong even though I know I have no point.

    That’s my point.

  44. ProfBalls

    May 5, 2008 at 12:02 am

    Sanjay, I don’t think anyone was commenting on Mr. Cohen’s accomplishments, but rather rebutting a sentiment that is expressed on the show. If anything, the post is reinforcing the his influence on how people view the MLS in the US. I am glad you feel his radio show is an act of sporting philanthropy- one of benevolence to educate all Americans about football. Right, he’s not it in for the money. I am so happy he is doing it, too, otherwise I couldn’t bear to hear him hock whatever sponsor he has lined up or trash those that are no longer. He is a soccer Rush Limbaugh, cynical but entertaining to a certain extent. I am glad he’s doing it for all us Americans, at least those without British or Scottish accents.

  45. Sanjay

    May 4, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    Why doesn’t anyone here realize what Steven Cohen has done for soccer in America. The guy lives and breathes soccer, World Soccer Daily alone is responsible for bringing so many new fans to the game. So please stop all this ” A certain WSD presenter” nonsense..

  46. kat kid

    May 4, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    BillE Shears is right. Any sport that indulges a majority of the league making the playoffs crosses the line from competition to a coach’s reason for continued employment. Too often teams of the 8-12 clubs would provide an excuse for mediocrity.

    If you cannot reach the top 8, then really you have no business winning the trophy.

    In my opinion, this should replace the Carling Cup and should be a separate trophy, a Champions’ League within the Premier League type of thing.

    Tradition and the weight of 38 games should grant the trophy to the regular season winner, the FA cup and this competition could open the door to more competition, but a club like Newcastle have NO business in the Champion’s League next year especially when you talk about extending the season an entire month for a club like Man. Utd. or Chelsea which would then have four cup competitions in addition to the regular Premier League fixtures on its plate. It is simply too much.

    8 teams Single game knock-out first round
    Semi-Finals and Finals two legs

  47. ProfBalls

    May 4, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Sorry being so verbose, but… again it’s money. If there was greater financial parity between the clubs than there would literally any team could win the league so the desire to play hard would reap dividends. As it stands now, you don’t really have any chance of winning if you aren’t in the top-tier. So by virtue of relegation, the motivation to win is really for only 2 purposes:

    1) A negative – to not be one of the 3 worst teams or
    2) Be noticed by a bigger club that has a chance at a trophy.

    If you don’t care about the winning a title, and just the game, eventually the mediocrity and/or relegation stress would get to you. It would me.

  48. ProfBalls

    May 4, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    I’d say with a little thought a better incentive structure could in be in place to give encourage teams keep playing well so you could maximize entertainment and reward the best team. I don’t think those concepts are mutually exclusive.

  49. Michael

    May 4, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Yeah that’s exactly why Tottenham packed their season in early; they knew they were getting back into Europe and so apathy has marked that squad for the last third of the year, they’re playing meaningless games. As you and I both said, eliminate the Carling Cup and have the FA Cup alone as the knockout tournament for the top flight.

  50. ProfBalls

    May 4, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    I’d vote for that in a heartbeat.

    I know that it is due to scheduling, but having the Carling Cup final so early, the winner can basically stop playing as hard, too, as long as they are not in any real danger of getting sucked down into a relegation.

  51. jm

    May 4, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    I, like some other commentators, am against a tournament for the Premier league.

    It is a perennial debate in sport – do you want to structure the league to determine the best team or to maximize entertainment? There can be no illusion that the NCAA tournament in American college basketball or the playoffs in MLB determine the best team. They determine which team plays the best over a small stretch of games. That’s the whole idea, since it opens the door for upsets by limiting the sample size.

    Tradition has bequeathed to English soccer an interesting scheme with both tournaments and a league title. The nice thing about this model is that you can grant the league title based on a means better designed to select the best team and still use the FA Cup (and to a much lesser extent, the Carling Cup) to get that tournament atmosphere. The FA Cup is waning a bit with the best teams looking to Europe, but it nevertheless retains a strong tradition behind it.

    The strongest argument Michael offers is an interesting one – namely that a playoff would ensure teams have something to play for right down to the last day of the season. I have two concerns about this argument. First is that teams are often playing hard to get spots 5-6 in the league since they are tied to Europe (depending on how cup competition goes), so perhaps 7-8 teams have something serious to play for right down to the end. A playoff extends that to maybe 8-10, which is an improvement, but only a minor one.

    The second concern is that teams with playoff spots cinched up might be more likely to rest their best players to keep them fresh. Just this season, for example, Arsenal would undoubtedly have rested their top players given their thin squad. They would have coasted in over the last few weeks, with their poor results being rather meaningless. Would Chelsea have given it everything to improve its seeding by one or two spots? Or would they have coasted in, knowing that being fresh for the playoffs was paramount.

    I still come back to my basic commitment – that the English game is best off having distinct competitions for playoff atmosphere and upsets and another which determines the best team (well, it doesn’t, you would need to play an infinite number of games to do that, but you are more likely to determine the best team).

  52. Michael

    May 4, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    You know what, I think I would keep the prize of Europe for the FA Cup because of its tradition and history, and as you said, scrap the Carling Cup altogether. The lower leagues already have their own cup competitions anyway, like the Setanta Shield, Johnstone Paint Trophy, FA Trophy, etc.

    So, two UEFA Cup spots available through the playoffs given to the teams that don’t qualify for the CL.

  53. ProfBalls

    May 4, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    I see, so you would eliminate the prize of Europe for the FA and League cups and have them won via a playoff. I like that idea! I would eliminate the league cup all together. Keep the FA Cup, though, and up the prize money considerably, enough for the teams to care about it even though it doesn’t get them anywhere. Then make the UEFA slots up for grabs via the playoffs.

  54. Michael

    May 4, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Well not quite true, third place still would get into the CL, fourth place still gets a first-round bye, and fifth and sixth place get home games in the one-off first round.

    The first-round bye can’t be underestimated at that point in a long, grueling season; an extra week’s worth of rest would be a big deal.

    The home games are also important since the first round is a one-off. There’s no away goals rule, so those teams would have every reason to just come out and play in front of their boisterous home crowds.

    In that sense, you’re still fighting for something until the end of the season.

    I would agree with your sentiment about the FA and Carling Cup competitions becoming more meaningless, but you know what, they’re going to do that anyway because there’s no real prize money or significance involved. As far as I’m concerned, Premiership teams are already sending out second-string sides until the later rounds of those competitions, so why bother with them at all in the first place?

  55. ProfBalls

    May 4, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    I agree that that passage into Europe by winning a cup would make the teams take it more seriously, but that would only solve the apathy towards those compitions and make the league games even more meaningless because it would take away the incentive for finishing 3rd – 6th. So now you have perhaps 12 teams with nothing to play for if cut adrift from the top and bottom.

  56. Michael

    May 4, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Yep, and the cup competitions seem to mean less and less to Premiership teams each year.

    That wouldn’t be the case, though, when a Champions League spot, Premiership title, and UEFA Cup spots would be on the line like in my proposal.

  57. ProfBalls

    May 4, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Blackburn rovers won the title 14 years ago, and are the only team to do so. At that rate it will be around 2020 the next time it happens. Unless a billionaire sugardaddy comes and swipes a club up they won’t ever compete. Even Liverpool won’t really challenge until their spending over multiple years (not just one) competes with that of ManU and Chelsea, they don’t stand a chance. The cup competitions ostensibly become the “playoffs”, allowing a team to have a good run and win it all.

  58. Michael

    May 4, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Brian, you made an interesting point about the way the schedules are set up. You’re exactly right in that the home and away system used in Europe will never catch on here because of travel, but while you’d like to see that brought here, I’d like to see the unbalanced scheduled used there.

    Manchester City-Manchester United three times a year, Liverpool-Everton three times, Sunderland-Newcastle three times, etc. You could balance it out by taking away a game against another team — for example, instead of Liverpool playing Portsmouth, on the complete other end of the country, twice, they’d play them once a year.

    I’d like to see more emphasis placed on the rivalries and history rather than balancing everything out.

  59. Dimi Berbatov

    May 4, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    What I like about your plan is the opening of the fourth ucl spot which might act to break up the top four. Unfortunately, this will never happen due to traditionalists and the creation of uncertainty in financial planning for the fourth place club.

  60. Brian

    May 4, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    I still say no to a playoff system in the Premier League. The way it’s set up now is the most fair way. If the middle of the pack teams want to compete against the “big 4” then they better bring their A game. It seems to me like Everton might challenge for a spot in the “big 4” soon.

    Also, Blackburn have won the title, so it’s not unprecedented for a non-“big 4” team to claim the title. I don’t think it’s impossible in the years to come for teams like Everton, Villa, Pompey, etc to win the title, especially with the ownership/money troubles that might start plaguing the “big 4” teams soon.

    I’d like to see the Premier League system brought to the MLS and other sports in North America. The NHL comes to mind. It will never happen and a major catch would be travel logistics. It’s not like in England where the teams are relatively close to each compared to the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning, for example.

  61. ProfBalls

    May 4, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    I think it’s time for a European super league, replacing the existing Champion’s League. The same situation exists all over Europe, only 1-2 top teams with any real chance of winning, so the meaningless games at the end of the season are a widespread “problem”. Perhaps EPL fans should feel lucky that there are four. The best chance fans have outside this top-tier is beating their rivals once or twice a season.

    I agree that it is sad when the most exciting part of the season is who is competing not to be worst.

  62. premierleagueyawnfest

    May 4, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Just cut the Premier League down to four teams (the obvious four teams) playing each other 12 times. Problem solved.

  63. Michael

    May 4, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Ty, believe me, I considered limiting it to eight teams, but then it’s just basically the UEFA Cup and Champions League teams and I think that giving the next four teams a small chance (given the fact that there can be some decent teams from 8-12; remember, West Ham has beaten Man U three times in a row, Spurs beat Chelsea in the Carling Cup final, etc) would be fitting. On a big occasion, even those teams would be able to pull off an upset.

    That also brings me to another I said, the top three teams get the CL spots with the one additional spot to play for, and then the teams that advance the furthest in the playoffs that haven’t earned or don’t earn a CL spot would qualify for the UEFA Cup.

  64. Michael

    May 4, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    I don’t think making money is more important than rewarding the best team, but if that’s the result of bringing more excitement to the league as a whole and drawing more passion and support from the 12 teams involved and the 14-15 who would be in the running for it (instead of the same four winning over and over again), then so be it.

  65. scaryice

    May 4, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    The current system in the premiership means that the champion will have truly earned their title. Playing each team twice with no playoffs is the fairest possible system. Playoffs are only necessary if you think that making money (by having more teams involved longer) is more important than rewarding the best team.

  66. BillE Shears

    May 4, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    I am not sure I am sold on a playoff, but I think the idea is an interesting one. If I were to do it, I would limit it to 8, however. I don’t think that a club like Newcastle has earned the right to play for the title.

    Matchups under that system would be.

    1 Man U vs. 8 Portsmouth
    2 Chelsea vs. 7 Blackburn
    3 Arsenal vs. 6 Aston Villa
    4. Liverpool vs. 5 Everton

  67. Mike

    May 4, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Oh and I forgot – I think that playoffs would only work effectively in a league like the Prem because the same teams are going for the title/Europe all the time. I still think that the majority of the MLS season is a joke because nearly every team has a chance at making the playoffs. Only a few teams though have the talent to actually win the league (or at least get the most points by the end of the regular season).

  68. Kartik

    May 4, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Well written and well thought out piece. I agree with so much you have written even though I am pre disposed to the other argument you have made your case extremely well.

    I challenge anyone here to watch the Mexican League playoffs that begin next week and understand that a playoff system in the top league in the world outside of Europe is what has given that league a leg up on so many around the Americas.


    Well written and well argued. I cannot wait to see some of the responses to this excellent piece.

  69. Mike

    May 4, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    To be honest, when i started to read this article, I thought ‘no’ immediately. But after reading through it and thinking about your points and the structure that’d be set up, I think it’d be great. It would add so much excitement to then end of the season and some other teams would (maybe) win the league, which would generate more fans and revenue for the teams. Good post Michael.

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