MARTIN SAMUEL: Alisson magic will be denied if elite do get their way

MARTIN SAMUEL: We will be denied magic moments like Liverpool keeper Alisson’s last-minute winner if the elite ever get their way… what more is there if the jeopardy of qualification for Europe goes?

  • Alisson only went up for that late corner because Liverpool need to finish fourth
  • The elite want guaranteed access to European competition under new plans 
  • UEFA are reconsidering giving spots via coefficients – and quite rightly so 
  • Elsewhere, Declan Rice and Jadon Sancho would make Man United a real force 

Jurgen Klopp had re-watched the footage 10 times before he even got in front of the cameras on Sunday. You are destined to see it many times more.

Alisson, 95th minute, for Liverpool at West Bromwich. No matter the triumphs of this season, his is the image that will endure. The perfection of the execution, the celebrations, the emotion he could not contain.

There have been 10 goals by goalkeepers in the English top division, dating back to Charlie Williams for Manchester City at Sunderland on April 14, 1900, but this was the first header, and the first to win the game.

Goalkeeper Alisson scored a stunning late header for Liverpool against West Brom on Sunday

That it happened so late, and may yet propel Liverpool into the Champions League next season, merely added to the dramatic narrative.

Yet amid the joyful commotion, one detail was forgotten. If UEFA allow historical entry into the Champions League, that doesn’t happen. If UEFA permit two clubs in based on coefficient ranking, there is no need to send Alisson forward in the last minute of stoppage time. 

Indeed, Liverpool would have been better served pulling men back. If they were guaranteed a Champions League place, the only way they could blow that would be to finish outside European qualification entirely. And the only way that stood a chance of happening was if they lost to West Brom. 

So Alisson back, everybody back. Liverpool would have settled for a draw, and who could blame them?

Historical qualifications were going to be part of the new Champions League format to placate the elite, again. The plan was for the two clubs with the highest coefficient over five years, who had qualified for Europe but not the Champions League, to be promoted to UEFA’s marquee competition.

Freeze the league tables right now, and that would be Liverpool and Juventus, currently fifth in England and Italy. If those two did then qualify automatically, however, the beneficiaries would probably be Tottenham and Roma. 

Were Arsenal to squeak into a European spot, they would take Tottenham’s place on coefficient, even if they finished behind them.

Historical qualification could catapult a team from seventh into the Champions League, ahead of clubs who had enjoyed better campaigns. Leicester could slip, finish fifth, and be gazumped by a team two or even three places below them.

It was a travesty, the worst kind of elite protectionism.

Now, angered by the threatened breakaway Super League, and after meeting fans’ groups who fiercely oppose any circumventing of the meritocracy, UEFA are reconsidering. Good.

All that is keeping this season alive is the scrap for those last two Champions League places. Yet if Liverpool knew they were in, provided they finished top seven, if Chelsea knew the same, where is the drama?

And how fair is it that if Leicester stumbled they would be banished to the Europa League, while Liverpool or Chelsea could fall short yet still qualify for the big one?

Alisson went forward for one reason: it still matters whether a team comes fourth or fifth

The elite believe they have made these competitions and deserve to participate no matter their circumstances, yet that is a misrepresentation of the whole. 

Yes, the storied names of European football are a big part of the appeal of the Champions League, but new arrivals such as Leicester, Atalanta and RB Leipzig add spice.

If anything, the competition was more exotic when a magic team from Tbilisi or Belgrade could also upset the established order. Those days have pretty much gone.

If the jeopardy of qualification goes, too, what more is there? Alisson went forward for one reason: it still matters whether a team comes fourth or fifth. In doing so, he delivered one of the greatest goals of the Premier League era. 

These are not details, inconveniences or wrinkles for JP Morgan to iron out. These moments are why we watch. Take them away, and see what happens.

GOOD LUCK SOLVING THIS TV CONUNDRUM  

So the television companies did listen and now, when featured clubs have played in the Champions League in midweek, BT Sport’s Saturday lunchtime slot will move to the evening. 

Jurgen Klopp and the rest of the Premier League coaches will be happy — but fans are not. Saturday night start times make travel difficult, particularly for away supporters. 

Of course, the games could be moved to Sunday, but that is not BT’s slot — and the lunchtime kick-off would be worthless if, the moment European football began, the eight leading Premier League clubs could not be considered for broadcast.

And football administration is full of judgment calls such as this. So whose side would the much-ballyhooed independent regulator take? 

Jurgen Klopp and the rest of the Premier League coaches will be happy about the new TV slot 

The fans — which would either infuriate the managers and exhaust the players or impoverish the clubs because BT and the foreign rights holders would be due a giant rebate if 12.30pm Saturday became the graveyard slot. 

Or the clubs and their television paymasters, which would disenfranchise the fans? What genius can square this circle? There isn’t one. 

That is the flaw in this grand regulatory plan. Why would any government want to get in the middle of this?

BANCROFT HAD EYE ON BALL, JUST LIKE REST OF US  

Cameron Bancroft’s statement of the obvious has come as startling news to Cricket Australia. 

Until Bancroft spoke to The Guardian, his board had no idea, apparently, that more than just three players — and none of them bowlers — knew the ball was being roughed up with sandpaper at Cape Town in 2018. 

This, despite what Ben Oliver, Cricket Australia’s executive general manager, called a ‘thorough investigation’. Really? 

Cricket Australia thought that three players covertly changed the status of the ball and never included any bowlers in that conversation. Nobody believed this. There is not a cricket team in the world who prepare a ball, legally or otherwise, without the bowlers in mind. 

Cameron Bancroft has served his ban following the sandpaper scandal in 2018 – let’s move on

Alastair Cook’s England might have only permitted a handful of players shining duty, but there was never any doubt who they were working for: the mission was to produce reverse swing for James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

So Bancroft’s admission, while expertly extracted, was hardly revelatory. ‘I think it’s pretty self-explanatory,’ Bancroft said, when asked if the bowlers had knowledge of ball-tampering. 

Now, no doubt to cover their tracks, Cricket Australia are reaching for the smelling salts and requesting Bancroft comes forward if he has ‘new information’. He hasn’t. 

He’s got the same information we all presumed was true at the time. That Bancroft, Steve Smith and David Warner took the fall for a ploy that would have been common knowledge to most of the team. But it was more than three years ago now. 

Bans have been served, resignations accepted. Let’s move on.

RICE AND SANCHO CAN MAKE UNITED FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH  

With Edinson Cavani signed up, Manchester United may not feel the pressing need to recruit Harry Kane from Tottenham. 

Their rivals, however, remain convinced that Jadon Sancho is a done deal and for less than the £100million-plus Borussia Dortmund were demanding a year ago. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is beginning to assemble a very strong squad and Declan Rice would be a transformative player for them, too. 

He is far too good to be a squad man at Manchester City or Chelsea. 

ALIOSKI MAY NOT SEE FUNNY SIDE ONCE FA STEP IN 

It would be very interesting to hear representatives of Burnley, or the Football Association, explain exactly what was racist about the gestures made by Ezgjan Alioski of Leeds towards Dwight McNeil on Saturday. 

For if poking out a tongue or pulling silly faces is racist, it would appear we need to urgently address a spate of racist outbursts in the toddler community, not to mention grandparents playing peek-a-boo.

Yet it shouldn’t surprise. Todd Kane of Queens Park Rangers received a seven-match ban for abusing Sergi Canos of Brentford when the teams met in February. 

Kane is said to have referred to Canos, who is Spanish, as a ‘diving, foreign ****’. He claims to have been responding to Canos calling him a ‘****ing ugly, English ****’. 

Kane’s team-mate, Rob Dickie, supported his version of events. The FA however, accepted Canos’ denial that he had targeted Kane’s Englishness, while charging Kane under Rule E3 which covers references to nationality and ethnicity.

Leeds’ Ezgjan Alioski poked his tongue out in the direction of Burnley’s Dwight McNeil

‘As a club we were surprised to learn the individual views of one opposition player had been believed by the FA, while the views of two of our players were rejected,’ said QPR. Why? 

The kangaroo court nature of FA verdicts is well known. From here, Alioski should expect nothing more.

NIGHTMARE DEBUT FOR NEW CHELSEA SHIRT 

That new Chelsea shirt must be flying off the shelves now. 

Nothing like back-to-back final defeats inside 48 hours, and a horrible design, to get the people shopping. 

WHY IS EK SO COY ABOUT HIS ARSENAL OFFER? 

Daniel Ek claims to have had a serious bid for Arsenal rejected last week, and released a statement confirming the details. All bar one. How much? 

Now we can argue that serious business people keep such details private — yet Ek saw fit to release other specifics, including fan ownership, representation on the board and a golden share to prevent the club joining a breakaway league. All highly popular policies. 

So why so coy about the size of the offer? 

Might it be because it was below the ball park £2billion valuation of Arsenal, which is why he needs the fans to apply pressure. If the offer was high, we surely would have heard about it — maybe even from the Kroenkes. 

PARTING OF WAYS BETWEEN HODGSON AND PALACE SHOULD CAUSE NO RANCOUR  

Increasingly, it seems likely that Roy Hodgson will leave Crystal Palace this summer. If so, there should be no rancour on either side.

He has been good for them, steering the club away from relegation in his first season and securing mid-table thereafter, and they have been good for him, helping restore his reputation after two unsuccessful tournaments as England manager.

It has been a fair exchange and no robbery. 

NO ASTERISK NEXT TO PEP’S TITLE WINNERS  

Pep Guardiola says that Manchester City’s fifth title of the modern era was their hardest yet. Roberto Mancini, winner of the first, might dispute that. 

What is undoubtedly true, however, is that this is not an asterisk season, one in which the winners are undeserving of proper acclaim. 

No, Manchester City have not had to visit Anfield in front of a full house, but nor have they enjoyed home advantage in any of their matches — and City have been inspired to some incredible late feats in previous seasons.

This is not an asterisk season for Manchester City’s title winners despite the lack of crowds 

Equally, life in the bubble is hard and requires a special camaraderie, which Guardiola has worked hard to nurture.

Sir Alex Ferguson maintained that his first title was toughest to win, but as a master man-manager, he would, one imagines, have no little respect for Guardiola’s achievement, too.

RODGERS’ FOXES CAN HAVE IT ALL  

Prior to Saturday’s final, Leicester fans were being asked what would they rather — win the FA Cup, or qualify for the Champions League next season. Why does it have to be either/or, why can’t it be both? 

There is no reason why winning at Wembley should negatively impact Leicester’s chances at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night. 

If they lose, it will not be because they had the temerity to win the FA Cup. Indeed, what better preparation is there for beating Chelsea in a major match than beating Chelsea in a major match?

This has got to be one of Brendan Rodgers’ more straightforward team talks. ‘You know what you did on Saturday, lads? Well, do it again.’

TO SEE JOFRA IN SUCH PAIN IS PITIFUL  

This is no mishap, like the cleaning accident with the fish tank. Jofra Archer’s elbow is troubling him again and he cuts an increasingly forlorn figure as he struggles to get fit to bowl. 

The likelihood is Archer will have an operation at the end of this week, followed by lengthy months of rehabilitation that even put in doubt participation in the five-Test series against India in August and September.

It could be that Archer’s first Ashes tour is also his last, that he cannot sustain long spells of fast bowling and has to convert to the white-ball game. It is a terrible shame. 

He has the potential to be a great, game-changing cricketer. To see him this way already at 26 is pitiful.

Jofra Archer might not be able to sustain long spells of fast bowling in the Test match arena 

RESISTANCE TO TOKYO OLYMPICS GROWING  

In Japan, resistance to the Olympic Games grows. The most recent poll now shows 80 per cent of locals are opposed to staging it this year. 

This follows news that 40 towns registered to host international competitors have pulled out and even tennis player Naomi Osaka — the Games’ poster girl — is unsure whether they should go ahead.

There is, however, a sliver of sanity. 

World Sailing said that when they contacted the IOC for confirmation the Games would take place and therefore financial support from the proceeds would be forthcoming, affirmation was not received. 

For World Sailing it means being unable to sign off their latest accounts. For the rest it hints that not everybody at the IOC is as gung-ho about the safety and need for this event as Thomas Bach. 




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