Liverpool leapfrog Spurs but does anyone want to be in the Europa League?

The Europa League is an interesting creation. In 2009 the old UEFA cup was expanded and rebranded to try and revitalise its waning image and raise the competition’s profile. The combination of smaller teams from around Europe and sprinkling of larger teams who have either been knocked out of the Champions League early or who have had a slightly less successful than wanted domestic season the year before should be an enticing one. Unfortunately, for many people in England, its appeal has remained low.

Why is that? Well with the two ideal midweek footballing days secured by the Champions League, Europe’s second club competition has been left with the Europa League of days, Thursday. With domestic games spanning the weekend and Monday, it is not difficult to imagine that some fans, as well as girlfriends, boyfriends and other interested parties, may be a touch fed up with football come Thursday.

In addition, there are some who, like with the Champions League, are put off by the group games, which are viewed as pointless trips by the larger teams to far flung parts of Europe to deliver almost embarrassing thrashings to minnows with unpronounceable names.

I find this all rather unfortunate.

As this season draws to its suitably exciting conclusion, another sub-plot opened up this week as Liverpool leapfrogged Spurs into fifth spot which, if they can maintain, will secure their entry into the Europa League next season.

Some discussion has opened up, however, on whether this accolade is actually worth it. The premise is generally that the Europa League is a second rate cup to be involved in (and even win…) and reasoning goes that more games with more travel in between is liable to lead to injuries and tiredness and thus inhibit progress in the more ‘meaningful’ domestic competitions and securing qualification in the Champions League.

That may be true, certainly for clubs that have over-achieved one year and then may find themselves caught with a squad that is too small, fighting on too many fronts and ending up slipping into an unwelcome relegation battle. The issue I have with this argument for larger clubs, like Liverpool or Tottenham who have eyes for the title and qualification for the Champions League, is that it is very short-sighted.

It is very difficult to play in Europe and compete in all domestic competitions at once. That is one of the reasons why on one of the rare occasions that a club outside of the ‘Big Four’ have made it to the Champions League, they have struggled to maintain their league position and form the year after. Playing in the Europa League offers the chance for squads to acclimatise to the added workload and for coaches who may not have had too much experience to hone their abilities to cope with what is required.

An unlikely source provided a second reason why players but also fans should want to be involved in Europe even if it is Europa League.

Talking to Radio BBC Merseyside Jamie Carragher said “Liverpool and European football is what the club’s about.” Clubs of the stature of Liverpool and Spurs should relish the chance to test themselves against teams from other countries and cultures and this should be something that fans appreciate – witness Manchester City fans adopting the tradition from Lech Poznan of turning their backs on the pitch. Any place in Europe, be it the Champions League or the Europa League should be worth fighting for.

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6 Responses to Liverpool leapfrog Spurs but does anyone want to be in the Europa League?

  1. SpursSimon says:

    For me, if we are in it I want to try and win it.
    Surely football is about winning things?

    But, UEFA should do some simple things to make this a great cup again:
    – Two leg knock out
    – No seeding
    – No CL drop outs

  2. I agree with previous comment. Uefa have weakened it to the point of embarrassment. Clubs have to be seen to be competitive but at what cost…. qualifying for it means that you weaken your season in the PL. Supporters have had enough of The Europa League in this guise. They need to sharpen it up and make it exciting again.

  3. James says:

    Interesting article. Personally, I love the fact that Thursday is now a day of football, but agree with the above comments that it’s hard to get overly excited about the Europa League. There’s just no getting away from the fact that it’s a poor man’s Champions League and always will be.

    Like you say, there are many benefits for a team involved in the competition (the financial benefits, in particular, are very helpful to clubs like Aberdeen, who made it to the last-32 in 2007/2008) and should be a competition players of Tottenham and Liverpool should prefer to play in than not.

  4. Graham says:

    Thanks for all your comments so far. I agree with all pretty much all of them. Given that the CL is a group based competition it would be fun to have a European competition like the FA Cup that is just straight knock out, although I’m not sure the money men would be too keen.

  5. Tom says:

    I don’t understand why there needs to be separate competitions really. I’d prefer just one massive European competition, say 16 groups of four; the top ranked eight sides get seeded, chuck everyone else into the pot for a bit of randomness and away you go. Fixtures could be arranged to take into account domestic league games (eg UK clubs play Tues/Weds, Italian Weds/Thurs)

    Would be a bit bonkers but maybe it would be interesting?

  6. Ryan Keaney says:

    Really interesting piece and summed up a lot of my thinking about the Europa League.

    It should be a competition that teams want to win and I think UEFA have to take some of the blame for its failings. It is too bloated right now and needs some stream-lining; possibly more knock-out stages but definitely less overall entrants.

    Plus, give the winners a guaranteed spot in the Champion’s League; irrespective of country. Therefore allowing a fifth Spanish or English team… Whatever. Get the winners a place at the big boys table and you’ll soon see a lot of the wannabe big sides taking matters much more seriously.

    Fine piece.

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