As we head for the last week of the English Premier League season, there is a phrase that will be tossed around quite a bit: “Get into Europe.” What does this mean?
The short answer here is that it means “Qualify for European club competition next season.” But let’s go just a little deeper into it.
How Soccer is Organized
Without getting lost in the details, world soccer is divided into regions; there are seven of them, and Europe is one. Within each region there are three types of competitions: nation vs nation to qualify for the World Cup every four years, nation vs nation for the regional championship every (some other) four years, and club vs club for the regional championship. World Cup Qualifying is called just that. The others, in Europe’s case, are the European Championships and the Champions League.
The way teams qualify for the Champions League is also pretty complicated, but let’s keep it simple here. In England’s Premier League, the top four teams go. This is basically what people mean when they say “Get into Europe.” The top three go straight in, and #4 has to play an extra qualifying round. The Champions League starts in September and ends in May.
Two European Championships
It’s called the Champions League, by the way, because it used to be you had to win your home country to get in. But obviously that limits the number of teams, therefore the number of games, and therefore — and most importantly — the amount of money to be made by the clubs, the TV networks, and the criminal syndicate known as FIFA that runs this whole operation.
There is another European championship; it’s called the Europa League. In England, teams 5 and 6 get into that one. Sometimes #7 gets in, as well, but honestly, that process is so damn confusing that I don’t feel like discussing it. (Read all about the Europa League here.)
Who Is In This Year
As of this writing, with the current European competitions at the semifinal stage, Liverpool (Champions) and Arsenal (Europa) are the only two English teams left. But who is in for next year?
Let’s take a look at the Premier League table as of May 1:
Manchester City have already won the league championship and are obviously into Europe. Manchester United will almost certainly finish second but are guaranteed a spot in the Champions League, as well. Liverpool and Tottenham, barring some major collapse on both their parts, will also get in, with the only mystery being who’s third and who’s fourth.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are locked into the Europa League, unless Spurs or Liverpool completely shit the bed.
The drama here is in the other Europa League spot(s): One of Chelsea, Spurs or Liverpool will be there, and Arsenal look good as well. But depending on how things go — it has to do with whether Chelsea win the FA Cup or Arsenal win this year’s Europa League, but it doesn’t matter — the 7th spot might be good enough, as well. And that brings us to Burnley.
Say Hello to Cinderella
Burnley FC, from a little industrial town in the north west of England, is for me the story of this season. They have a 20,000-seat stadium called Turf Moor, they’ve never won anything, and for the last few years they have just hung on in the Premier League. And here they are, 7th and breathing down the necks of Arsenal.
Plus, they play at Arsenal on the last day of the season. That could be with a European spot on the line — maybe not an exciting one for Arsenal, but a monumental one for Burnley.
If they finish strong and other things go their way, they could be singing this classic soccer song (courtesy of Leicester City, who won the the league a few years back and went on a terrific, well …. :