O'Neill backs Champions League idea

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill has given his blessing to early proposals for a play-off for the fourth Champions League place.

The idea is understood to have been raised at a recent meeting of all 20 Premier League clubs, and may well be aired again when the next meeting takes place in April.

At present, the top four places in the top flight are guaranteed a Champions League spot, either directly into the competition or via a qualification round.

However, the possibility of a play-off system would see only the top three teams given automatic entry, with those finishing fourth to seventh fighting it out for the remaining coveted spot.

The prospect has certainly aroused the interest of O'Neill, whose side currently occupy seventh in the league, and who have finished sixth in the last two seasons.

"I only heard about it yesterday and gave it a wee bit of thought last night," O'Neill is quoted as saying in the Express & Star.

"It's quite interesting. I wouldn't knock it immediately, particularly if we finish seventh in the league!

"I know the team who finished fourth would be galled if that was the case, but if you knew the rules in advance at the start of the season then you know the parameters.

"The Premier League seems rather glamorous, but it's a constant struggle.

"You always feel as though relegation is haunting you. You want to get into the middle section of the table and then at the end of the season there could still be a charge for this spot."

The idea is unlikely to enamour the 'big four' of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool who have claimed the top four places in five of the last six seasons.

However, as any Premier League vote requires a 14-six majority, the remaining clubs would likely be in favour.

"It would be interesting to see what all the Premier League clubs thought about it, because there has to be 14 in agreement," added O'Neill.

"Outside the top sides I think people might go for it."

The obvious bone of contention, however, relates to congestion at the end of the season, in particular in a World Cup or European Championship year.

"I have to say there is definitely that element of 'where do you fit it in?"' queried O'Neill, who has previously been through the demands of the play-offs with Leicester and Wycombe.

"But the prize is so big, you're talking about a Champions League qualifying game in August.

"The play-offs have become a massive thing now. I've experienced it myself.

"If you could guarantee me getting promotion through the play-offs, then I would take it every time."

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