The issue of a Champions League play-off between the teams who finish between fourth and seventh in the Premier League has been mooted nad has its good points and bad points. Matt Dickinson at the Times feels it would be a welcome move as it would help break the glass ceiling for clubs like Manchester City and Spurs.
The difficulty of trying to break the monopoly of the “big four” English clubs has already cost Mark Hughes his job and Sheikh Mansour hundreds of millions of pounds. And still you would not risk much money on Manchester City smashing the glass ceiling.
It cost Martin Jol his position, too, at Tottenham Hotspur even though food poisoning was one of the conspirators against his team when they were a victory away from a cherished place in the top four.
David Moyes is the solitary manager who has managed to smash through the glass ceiling, but Everton were promptly knocked out in the Champions League qualifier and Liverpool, saved by the miracle of Istanbul, ensured it was the usual English quartet who flied the flag in Europe — as they have done for each of the past six seasons.
Which is why the idea of play-offs for the fourth Champions League place is being so eagerly kicked around by some Barclays Premier League chairmen and chief executives; and why the underdog spirit in all of us should have met the proposal yesterday with more than a resignation that it will never happen (even though the Big Four, flexing their muscles, will almost certainly see to it that it doesn’t).
The Champions League has been a closed shop, and might yet prove so again this season even as City spend and Liverpool falter.
But that could change if seventh became the new fourth.
In potentially giving smaller clubs a chance to steal one of the places of the big boys — a rare chance for the poor to take from the rich — the proposal seems on the surface to be exactly the sort of meritocratic step we should all be applauding.
Uefa likes to play down how much the Champions League distorts domestic competition by saying that it provides only 8 to 13 per cent of income for the top clubs, but 8 per cent of Liverpool’s turnover is still a vast amount to a Stoke City, Fulham, Sunderland or even Everton.
The only way to address this problem properly is for those benefits to be divided among the entire Premier League, but even to suggest it would have the big clubs making rumblings about a breakaway league.
In their frustration, ambitious middle-ranking clubs are now pushing the play-off idea and hoping to sweep along those beneath them. They know that there are objections, many sensible ones, but the very least they want, and deserve, is a fair hearing.
Meanwhile, the David Beckham stuff continues to dominate the thoughts of many ahead of Tuesday's clash between AC Milan and Manchester United. Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail, though, thinks the media sideshow is distracting people from the fact that Beckham isn't the man he was on the field.
There is a downside to this marketing jamboree. Off the field, Beckham remains pitch perfect but increasingly, the less that is seen of him in games, the better.
The match with Manchester United throws Beckham the player into sharp focus. All eyes will be on him tonight, including those of Fabio Capello, the England manager scrutinising his effectiveness against the best opposition.
If Beckham comes up short, as happened the last time he was the centre of attention in Milan, it will reignite the debate around his inclusion in England’s World Cup squad, and his place on the plane is not yet guaranteed.
Capello does not do sentiment. He likes Beckham, not for old acquaintance but for what he brings to the group. He genuinely considers Beckham the best professional in the squad and is impressed by his attention to detail in preparation, his thoroughness and fitness.
He is almost there. Even so, unlike Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney, Beckham could still be displaced. He is in a straight fight for four, maybe three, places in wide midfield with Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright- Phillips, Joe Cole, James Milner and Stewart Downing.
Capello also knows that the greatest test of Beckham’s ability to influence games against significant opposition in South Africa will come in the Champions League, or against the best of Serie A, which is why tonight’s game is so important.
All that exploded that night was the myth that Beckham was in the form of his life since returning to Milan. Inter won impressively despite being down to nine men by the end and the Italian press compared Beckham to a waxwork dummy.
The criticism was harsh, not least because there were a lot of stiff, lifeless figures in red and black that night. More shocking was the gulf between the player on show and the one billed pre-match.