Cup winners could earn berth in Champions League

DOMESTIC cup winners across Europe could qualify for the Champions League as part of a proposed shake-up of the competition, a senior UEFA official said on Thursday.

Under proposals being discussed by European football's governing body in June, the winners of each country's main knockout competition could be included in a new play-off system at the end of the season which will determine the final Champions League places.

Scotland, along with Germany and Spain, have already backed the principle, while it has not yet been discussed with the Premier League and English FA.

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Awarding the cup winner one of their country's automatic positions is also being tabled, but is likely to be seen as a step too far at this stage. At present cup winners qualify for the UEFA Cup.

"Giving the cup winners one of these spots is something which we will discuss. We want to revitalise the cup competitions in each country which have suffered in recent years," said William Gaillard, special advisor to UEFA president Michel Platini.

"But to be honest if the same team that finishes first, second or third ends up winning the cup, then the place would go to the next team in the league.

"If the cup winner goes to the Champions League, then that third or fourth-placed team goes to the UEFA Cup."

The popularity of the cup in many countries has plummeted in recent years as leagues with lucrative Champions League spots on offer continue to grow in importance.

Platini proposed a new playoff format earlier this month as part of his plan to reduce the numbers of berths for the bigger countries and increase the chances of other clubs across Europe to qualify for the elite competition.

Among his ideas is that the fourth-placed teams in the bigger leagues could face each other in end of season play-offs.

Another formula was for teams from England, Spain and Italy to play off against teams from the smaller nations, thus giving them the chance of an upset. However, these play-off places may now go to the cup winners instead.

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According to sources within UEFA, the new idea regarding the cup winners - to be discussed by UEFA's new strategic committee during its first meeting in June - has support within all sectors of the game, including some of the more powerful clubs.

"The likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Rangers and others have already indicated their support," one UEFA source said.

Gaillard added that Platini also expects to unveil plans to give fans an official say in running the game with a set on UEFA's new Strategic Board by the end of the year.