The curse of European qualification

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European qualification can be a gift and a curse. At the start of every campaign, a dozen or so Premier League clubs will outline in their list of season's objectives, a potential route to either the Champions League or Europa League competitions.

A domestic cup run will be perceived as an added bonus, but league form will be very much the 'bread and butter', or the staple diet for which future success can be built.

Entry into the Champions League - Europe's premier club competition - usually comes via a top four finish in the Premier League. The top three teams earning automatic qualification, while the fourth placed side being forced to navigate their way through a two-legged play-off.

Fifth and sixth placed finishes earn passage to the recently reformed Europa League; the less prestigious, younger brother of UEFA's top tier tournament.

The Carling Cup also provides an opportunity for inclusion, with the winner joining the aforementioned achievers on their continental adventure. But, aside from the glitz and the glamour that comes with competing on the European stage, there is also a risk of smaller clubs being forced to over-stretch themselves.

Take Newcastle United this season. Alan Pardew's players have emerged as genuine contenders for the Champions League next year, but are they really ready to mix it with the best?

With only three games remaining, the Magpies could yet pip the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea to that all-important fourth spot - a remarkable achievement that would rank as one of the biggest shocks in the Premier League era.


However, instead of reveling in the thoughts of what their prospective European fortune might bring, there is a lingering doubt in my mind that questions whether Champions League inclusion next season would actually be good for the club in the long-term.

Newcastle's resources do not look deep enough to cope with the extra games, and extra strains that Europe brings. After all, it's a heavy weight for a relatively small squad to carry.

League form could suffer, and with it confidence. Stoke City are a prime example of a plucky underdog, who, upon reaching the FA Cup final in 2010-11, were rewarded with a place in this year's Europa League.

After successfully negotiating their way through the group stages, Stoke were eliminated in the first knockout round by Valencia. A great experience for the players, but ultimately a frustrating managerial headache for Potters boss Tony Pulis, who struggled to find the right formula to balance progress, both domestically and in Europe.

Those who oppose such a cautious stance when embracing the test of either Champions League or Europa League competition, will argue that the fundamental point of sport is to achieve as much as possible.

The additional challenges that are faced through the attainment of success is something that should be tackled head on. After all, how can any club ever make positive strides if its aim is to merely preserve the staus quo, through fear of potentially biting off more than it can chew.

Financially, the benefits are obvious. Clubs qualifying for the Champions League can expect to make upwards of £20million in profit, even if they fail to get out of the group stages.

The Europa League is comparatively less lucrative - unless you make it right to the final - but, it's more about the kudos than being a money-making exercise. The extra prestige that European competition brings, and the carrot it dangles in front of prospective transfer targets, mustn't be underestimated.

Opportunity ultimately follows success, but it is how a club manages its renewed expectation levels that will determine the longevity of their progress.

The potential to attract better players, pay higher wages, and compete against better teams must not lose sight of the bigger picture, minimising the risk of taking one step forward, and two steps back.

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