Belfast Telegraph

Why the Irish League faces an uphill battle to regain lost Europa League place as UEFA unveil qualification tweak

Linfield's victory over La Fiorita in 2017 is one of only four times Irish League clubs have progressed a European round in the last four years.
Linfield's victory over La Fiorita in 2017 is one of only four times Irish League clubs have progressed a European round in the last four years.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

A tweak to the Uefa qualification process means that the Irish League faces an uphill battle to win back the Europa League place it will lose for the 20/21 season.

Uefa have now confirmed the news in Wednesday's Belfast Telegraph that the Irish League will have only three teams in European competition next summer.

It's thanks to a slide to 52nd (from 55 nations) in the coefficient rankings that the Danske Bank Premiership structure, pertinently the European play-offs, has been thrown into chaos.

From next summer, only the league winners, the Irish Cup winners and the league runners-up will gain a European place, delivering an initial £195k blow to the league, on top of losses caused should the play-offs be scrapped.

So how, and when, can the Irish League regain their lost Europa League place?

Uefa have also confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that, from the 20/21 season onwards, nations placed from 51st to 55th in the coefficient rankings will be allocated two places in the Europa League.

That means, rather than having to move up only one place, Northern Ireland must jump back up two spots to 50th in order to regain their third Europa League berth.

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Adding further embarrassment is news that the change means Northern Ireland now cannot lose any more European places, already among the bottom four nations who all only receive three places.

It's a task that will be made all the more difficult by the fact that the nation's strongest recent season of European performance, the 14/15 campaign, will no longer be considered towards the all-important coefficient.

In the summer of 2014, Linfield and Crusaders both progressed through a round of Europa League qualifiers while Cliftonville's home draw with Debrecen in the Champions League also aided the coefficient figure that is used to designate European places.

Since then, Irish League clubs have won a combined total of just four rounds in four years (Linfield in 2015 and 2017 as well as Crusaders in 2015 and Cliftonville in 2016), leaving the coefficient set to be ravaged by the loss of the 14/15 season.

For that reason, NI will even drop below Kosovo if they fail to better the eastern European nation's results this summer.

While the Faroe Islands in 50th place could be caught, losing 1.375 off their coefficient (the same figure as Northern Ireland), it will be more difficult to reel in the likes of Gibraltar (losing just 0.250) or Montenegro (0.750).

These problems have formed a huge part of the argument for introducing summer football to the league.

While that issue continues to be debated and unless there are a number of outstanding results in this summer's qualifiers, it seems likely that the Irish League will be made to wait to win back their fourth European place.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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