BRIAN Laws gets a lot of stick (mainly from Sheffield Wednesday fans) and yet he still might lead Burnley into next season’s Europa League.
And it’s all thanks to the UEFA fair play rankings, the It’s A Knockout joker of European football.
It’s quite hard to explain just how Burnley have got into a position where they will make it into Europe via the fair play route (but only if Fulham win the Europa League), so I got my good friend the late Rudyard Kipling to help:
That’s A Big If, by Rudyard Kipling (deceased)
(Read by Des Lynam)
If you keep 11 men when the team facing you
are losing theirs and blaming the man in black;
If you keep pushing for another goal or two
when your opponents have forgotten how to attack;
If you play at speed yet not be tired by time wasting,
respect the referee and his two assistants
even when your team are getting another pasting,
it will all help your Fair Play co-efficient.
If your manager and fans conduct themselves well
and don’t moan or cause trouble, even in defeat;
If the other teams in your league behave as well
and your country makes the Fair Play top three;
If the teams above you in your nation’s rankings
have a place in Europe already won,
then even if you suffered weekly tankings
you’ll be in the Europa League, my son!
The fair play rankings have been around since 1995. Each year since, those rankings have been used to hand out three places in the UEFA Cup.
In the past, the country which finished top of the UEFA rankings (almost without exception Norway, Sweden or England) would receive a place to give to the team that finished highest in their domestic fair play league (but hadn’t qualified for Europe by other means). The other two places would be drawn at random from all the countries with a high-enough fair play rating.
Last year, UEFA must have decided that system was too confusing, as the three places now go to the top three countries in the fair play rankings – doing away with the need for the random draw.
England are currently third in the table, behind (surprise!) Norway and Denmark. (They must have had a particularly ill-disciplined year in Sweden.) Burnley currently lie sixth in the English fair play league – but the only team above them who haven’t already qualified for Europe next season are Fulham.
But if Roy Hodgson’s men beat Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final later this month, then they won’t need the fair play spot, which will pass down to the Clarets.
The crazy thing is that it won’t be the first time an English club has qualified for Europe via the fair play method while being relegated from the Premier League. Ipswich did it in 2002.
Some teams have managed to get into Europe via the fair play rankings more than once. SK Brann (from guess where? Norway) have done it three times. Only one English club has done it more than once, though. Manchester City did it in 2003 and 2008.
On the latter occasion, the English fair play table was so close that there was doubt over whether City would get the UEFA Cup place going into the final day of season, when they played at Middlesbrough. And thus City became the first club in history to win a place in Europe after losing a game 8-1. Typical City, you might say.
Last night’s final match: Birmingham 2 Burnley 1
Commentator: Steve Wilson
On the subject of Manchester City, anyone who has been following their recent goalkeeping crisis may have been amused to see both a present and former Eastlands stopper featuring on the teamsheet at St Andrew’s yesterday.
Joe Hart has been a revelation at Birmingham during his season-long loan, and it was little wonder that Roberto Mancini tried to recall him following Shay Given’s season-ending shoulder injury. On the bench for Burnley, meanwhile, was Nicky Weaver – a keeper who was once as promising as Hart is now.
Weaver’s career has never really recovered from a serious of injury problems which kept him out of the game for almost three years. After leaving Eastlands in 2007, he had a couple of undistinguished years at Charlton, then six months at Dundee United. Now he is playing second fiddle to Brian Jensen, perhaps the Premier League’s least convincing goalkeeper.
I could forgive Weaver if he looked at Jensen flapping about, missing crosses, punching when he should be catching, and thought: “Come on, I must be a safer bet than him.”
Jensen scored Birmingham’s opening goal yesterday as the defence in front of him stood and watched. Sebastian Larsson crossed, Cameron Jerome scuffed his shot under pressure at the far post, and the ball Jensen’s right leg, then his left, and rolled gently into the net.
In fairness to Burnley’s keeper, he looks a very good shot stopper. But his season has been every bit as difficult as that of his team. It seems an awful long time since he was saving Michael Carrick’s penalty in a victory against Manchester United.
Christian “Call me Chucho” Benitez hasn’t always had things his own way since his loan move to Birmingham from Mexican club Santos Laguna. It’s unlikely the Ecuadorian will be back in the Midlands next season, so his chested close-range finish just before half-time – his first goal at St Andrew’s – was a nice way to say goodbye, especially as it was his 24th birthday.
Steven Thompson scored for Burnley with three minutes to go, and that was that. They only picked up one booking, so the European dream is still alive, too. Laws, though, didn’t feel too much respect for referee Peter Walton, complaining that Birmingham’s second goal came from a free kick that shouldn’t have been awarded. (The Burnley manager was probably right.)
Burnley’s hopes of finishing top of the Gubbometer (which, scandalously carries no place in the Europa League – I really must get on to Michel Platini about that) have long since faded.
The race for the Gubbometer title will go to the final day, but Portsmouth should hang on to their lead at the top, unless there’s some seriously funny business in the Match of the Day running order next weekend.
Everton can’t overtake them, because they play Pompey. Of the other teams who could finish top, Stoke are at Manchester United (who could still be going for the title) and West Ham host Manchester City (who could be going for fourth spot) while Blackburn are at Aston Villa (which is a dead rubber, but still less likely to be on last than, say, Wolves v Sunderland or Bolton v Birmingham).
So it looks like being Pompey’s title. And given that the FA and Premier League have effectively barred them from playing in next season’s Europa League, perhaps it’s just as well that the Gubbometer carries no European place.
1. Portsmouth: 8 (GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
2. Blackburn: 7 (GD: 1. 2L: 4.)
3=. Everton: 7 (GD: 1. 2L: 2.)
3=. West Ham: 7 (GD: 1. 2L: 2.)
5. Stoke: 7 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
6. Bolton: 6 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
7. Wigan: 5 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
8. Hull: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 9.)
9. Wolves: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 8.)
10. Fulham: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
11. Aston Villa: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
12. Birmingham: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 8.)
13. Burnley: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
14. Gubba: 2 (GD: 2. 2L: 3.)
15. Tottenham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
16. Sunderland: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
17. Arsenal: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
18. Liverpool: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
19. Manchester United: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
20. Chelsea: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
21. Manchester City: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
GD = Gubba difference
2L = On second last (Last night’s penultimate match was: Stoke 0 Everton 0.)
(NB. Teams will receive one point for every time they appear last on MOTD. Appearances on MOTD2 are not included. Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference – the number of times a team is on last with Tony Gubba commentating. Teams still level will then be separated by the number of times they appear second last on MOTD.)