Belfast Telegraph

Heavyweights sweating on Euro jackpot

Liverpool stand 24 hours away from the game that gives them potential payback for all those years of Sir Alex Ferguson making it "a deadly serious ambition ... some people would say too serious", as he once put it, to grind them into the dust.

A win at Old Trafford tomorrow – which the bookmakers rate at around 2-1 – would see Brendan Rodgers' second-placed side climb 14 points ahead of Manchester United in the Premier League, and effectively dump them out of next season's Champions League.

United would need to win this year's trophy to retain their place in the competition.

There will be satisfaction for Liverpool, having not made it back to the elite tournament since the desultory 2-1 defeat at home to Fiorentina in December, 2009 knocked them out at that season's group stage.

Yet even if United do find themselves in the "ugly kid brother" of the Champions League, as Steven Gerrard once described the Europa League, Liverpool will be confronted by the more difficult strategic spending decisions this summer – especially if they end up in fourth spot in the Premier League.

The team who make the August Champions League play-off face a game of poker – working with Champions League and Europa League revenue scenarios but knowing that they risk being dropped into the junior competition from which Chelsea earned only £10.7m by winning last season's version.

"The toughest part of all is to plan around this play-off outcome, with that risk of not making it to the group stage," said Esteve Calzada, the former Barcelona chief marketing officer and football finance analyst.

United will also wait and watch to see how boldly Liverpool respond to a return to the Champions League.

They are planning a substantial summer overhaul of their own – a "retooling" in the new Old Trafford vernacular – but there is a view within some boardrooms that Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool's owners, may wait until the club are a regular competitor in the elite competition before splashing out heavily on big name signings.

Liverpool may have viewed their displacement of Arsenal from the Champions League as a better outcome than United dropping out – because the north London club is less inclined to spend heavily to win that place straight back.

United, who are ready to shell out £150m, have gleaned little evidence from their initial summer transfer market work that being consigned to the Europa League will force them to pay out more in wages to entice players.

They believe players like Bayern Munich midfielder Toni Kroos and Porto's French centre-half Eliaquim Mangala are more interested in the famous name of a club than participation in that competition.

"I honestly don't think this affects strong and consolidated global clubs such as Manchester United because players know that lack of participation is sporadic and an accident," Calzada said.

"Wages and chances to play are still the key drivers on players' club choices and I don't think lack of participation in the Champions League in one specific year would result in significantly lower salaries at a club such as United.

"However, it does affect a club like Liverpool, given their repeated absence from the Champions League."

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