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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