English teams in Europa League may be rewarded

LONDON • England's representatives in the Europa League could be offered financial incentives by the Premier League to try to go as far as possible in the competition.

The plan is one of a number of measures that have been discussed by the league's 20 clubs in a bid to ensure that the top flight does not lose its coveted fourth slot in the Champions League to a resurgent Serie A.

Thanks to Juventus' run to the Champions League final and the presence of two Italian sides in the Europa League semi-finals last season, Italy made up more than half their deficit to England in Uefa's coefficient table last year.

Under projections, Serie A could leap ahead as early as next season, leaving the Premier League with only three places in the Champions League from 2018.

The league believes that the risk is "very real" and is keen to encourage clubs not to dismiss the Europa League as an afterthought.

Only one club, Chelsea, have reached the semi-final stage since 2010 and no English side have made the quarter-finals in either of the past two seasons.

The idea of offering bonuses to clubs who perform well in the Europa League has been discussed at Premier League meetings, although no vote on whether to introduce them has been taken.

In recognition that reaching the later stages of the Europa League can have an impact on the coefficient ranking, there is understood to have been discussion of whether a portion of the Premier League's £8.3 billion (S$16.7 billion) TV deal could offer a financial bonus to successful clubs.

The league's desire to arrest the decline of English clubs in European competition is also behind discussions on easing the relentless fixture schedule in domestic football.

Clubs have been struck by the travails of English sides in the Champions League and believe that reducing the number of games they must play - by abolishing FA Cup replays and the two-leg League Cup semi-final - could reduce the workload, while some Champions League sides may play fixtures on Friday nights before European weeks from next season.

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline 'English teams in Europa League may be rewarded'. Print Edition | Subscribe