Five years ago Real Madrid won the Champions League. In the same season, they finished fifth in La Primera Liga. Following previously agreed upon UEFA rules (article 1.0.3) to the letter, the Spanish FA petitioned to have Real Madrid admitted to the 2001 Champions League as defending champions, in place of Real Zaragoza, who finished 4th.
Zaragoza were shunted into the UEFA Cup, and their fortunes underwent a dramatic reversal, culminating in relegation a couple of seasons later. They have since recovered to top division mid-table mediocrity, but this alone is evidence enough that the decision was not one to be taken lightly.
What is interesting, and in fact amusing, is that even after all this happened, nobody felt the need to question or challenge the qualification rules for the Champions League. They were clearly established, and even the extreme case of the champions not qualifying was adequately handled. Everyone was content to work within the rules.
Wind the clock forward to 2005. In a quite inexplicable season for English football (witness Arsenal's ridiculous FA Cup victory), Liverpool somehow managed to get their hands on the Champions League trophy. Permanently, no less, with it being their 5th success overall. However, they finished just fifth in the Premiership. Sound familiar?
The English FA was faced with a choice. Either petition for Liverpool to take the 4th Champions League spot, and relegate Everton to the UEFA Cup, or have the Champions of Europe play in the UEFA Cup, and let Everton have the spot that they earned. A tough call, to say the least.
So what happens? The English FA now want to have their cake and eat it. They first rule that the 4th placed team, Everton, will get their due. But then, when Liverpool go and, admittedly much to everyone's surprise, win the Champions League, they decide they want Liverpool to be a 5th English team in the competition next year.
The media circus of course hops straight onto the bandwagon, and starts bleating on and on about how the rules are wrong. The same rules that everyone has repeatedly agreed to, despite the exact same circumstance having played out 5 years earlier.
I thought it was bad enough that the FA were acting so hypocritically, but even worse, at the end of it all, UEFA actually went and backtracked on their own rules. What a wonderful precedent! Agree to the rules, but if they somehow conspire against you, make enough noise, and they will be changed to suit you.
It really is a wonderful world we live in. Things don't go your way, so you make a bit of a fuss, and Bob's your uncle. And if there's one uncle nobody should want to have, it's Bob.
My little whinge aside, I must confess to one thing. Had this same scenario involved Manchester United, I would be supporting it in every way possible. Does that make me a hypocrite? Sure, the shoe fits. Does it make it right? Heck, no.