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European qualification

There was a recent comment left over at tldorc which threw up the suggestion that failing to secure seventh position this season (therefore not qualifying for next seasons Europa League) may actually be in our favour.

So much of recent focus - ie, since the defeat to Hamburg - has been about trying to make a late run to get back into Europe that there hasn't been much analysis on exactly what effect participation in this seasons UEFA Cup has had on our league fortunes.

Whilst most would consider European qualification of any sort a success from a season, for ADUG this will clearly not be enough to satisfy their ambitions. The revamped Europa League is not what they had in mind when they took over, the promised land (and cash) of the Champions League is of course the aim that must be achieved.

It is easy to forget at this juncture quite how early our season began way back in the Faroe Islands, and it is testament perhaps to the training methods of Mark Hughes and his staff that we do still look relatively fresh at this stage, and able to still challenge for that final qualifying position.

Looking at Aston Villa, they had a great opportunity for Champions League qualification this season, but - coupled with a fantastic run by Arsenal - simply ran out of steam, no doubt in part because of the diversion of the UEFA Cup, and they may not get another chance like the one they have had this season.

Now I don't believe that the UEFA Cup campaign has been the ruin of our league season, far from it, but it has to have taken its toll, and rather much has had to do with the changes Hughes has sought to introduce, which haven't all been succesful but the vast majority of which I believe we are beginning to see signs of fruition.

If then, the Champions League is the target, looking ahead now to the 2009/10 season, will we be best served by not qualifying for the Europa League?

Summer signings are now (and will continue to be) speculated about with a feeling that a lack of European football will be a hindrance to our chances of signing certain 'top name' players, but my view is that it is the Champions League that is the attraction and Europa League or not, this will not affect our potential to lure players.

With a more settled squad now, which has had the benefit of at least half a season together, with the long term absentees returning plus any new additions in the summer, we will go into 2009/10 with what is arguably our best ever (certainly that I can remember anyway) squad. With only the league (and domestic cups) to focus on, we could focus everything on making a real run at a Champions League place, which we all know will be such a difficult thing to achieve.

I'm not saying my preference is for us to avoid seventh place, and the UEFA Cup this season has in the main been fantastic to watch. And from the noises coming out of the club the focus is still very much on qualification, but if the bar is now set at a far higher standard, does this include the Europa League?