From being tipped for a relegation battle (and many of us believing the same) to being the feel-good story of the year, Newcastle United (everyone's second team, as I've heard us described) have put themselves in the most intriguing of positions heading into the final 5 matches of the season. Winning their 4th and 5th consecutive matches over the Easter programme while Chelsea and Tottenham both dropped points, the Magpies find themselves having migrated from hoping for help to qualify for Europe to possessing an automatic qualifying position for the Europa League. Many people (myself included) would have been delighted with that as an ultimate outcome for the season, not wanting to entertain the possibility of Champions League football. Now that we're level on points with Spurs for that final Champions League qualifying position, it's time to adjust our sites squarely onto the Champions League- and it's not a matter of getting carried away.
There are several reasons why the Champions League should be the new goal for Newcastle, and only one of them is "hey, we're here, so why not?". Assuming that Chelsea don't win the 2011-12 version of the competition, the fourth place qualifier from the Premier League would not face a match until the weekend of the 21st of August. Not only would this allow for a full summer training program, it also ensures maximum flexibility in any potential summer tour announcement which ostensibly maximizes marketing potential, etc. etc. If the club are able to tie up the signing of Douglas from FC Twente, it would also allow maximum possibility for him to have achieved his Dutch citizenship and complete his transfer to Newcastle before the opening of the competition. There are, of course, other reasons why the Champions League should fully be the focus of this year's squad.
It goes without saying that the cachet of the Champions League is the most immediately tangible benefit of qualifying for it rather than the Europa League. Although nothing would be certain, it would maximize the potential of keeping hold of several important players who might otherwise move on from the club over the summer (I'm looking at you, Cheik Tiote). European qualification is great and might help sell players who are bought in to a process, but those seeking a more immediate return are always going to want the Champions League, whether that's here or somewhere else. What I'm trying to say is, the Europa League would be great, and I would be tremendously pleased to qualify... but it's easy to see that the Champions League will allow us to keep and acquire a different calibre of player.
Of course the greatest reason for aiming for the Champions League over the Europa League is £££. Compensation for the two UEFA competitions is determined by a formula that factors in matches played in the comptetition, performance bonus (wins) and a formula-driven "market pool share". English clubs benefit from this market pool share due to better television contracts with its broadcast partners- Manchester United were given the greatest compensation in the 2010-11 Champions League even though they lost the final to Barcelona thanks to this market pool share. Predictably (and as I've discussed briefly here before), the compensation for the Champions League is far greater on all of these factors.
If Newcastle were to qualify for the Champions League through a 4th place finish in the Premier League, they would be entered into the competition at the "play-off" stage, meaning they would face a home and home with one of the winners through the 3rd round of qualifiers on 21/22 Aug and 28/29 Aug. If they managed to win through that fixture, they would be in the group stage of the Champions League. Each English squad in the 2010-11 competition made it to the round of 16, so without the specific formula for the market pool, I can't tie down with any certainty what the payout would be if Newcastle qualified for the group stage and did not move on- but just for reference, Arsenal were compensated to the tune of £29,983,000 for their round of 16 performance in 2010-11. Figure out the £3,300,00 bonus for the round of 16 match and the commensurate market pool shot and you can likely figure somewhere in the neighborhood of £15m for a group stage exit. (Of course, a third place group stage finish still qualifies you for the Europa League....) By comparison, Liverpool and Manchester City earned a grand total of £6,131,224 for their round of 16 appearances in the 2010-11 competition. With our current player recruitment policies, you're essentially looking at at least two, maybe three players that we would be able to afford (or increased compensation for other key performers) if we qualify outright for the Champions League over the Europa League.
So- qualification for the Champions League is great (from the Department of Duh Department) but this has been a brief review of exactly why.
P.S. Chelsea can royally screw this all up if they win the Champions League this year... you are now all Barcelona fans until further notice.