There’s quite clearly a snobbish attitude in England towards the Europa League, as if every club in the country is above a competition that is often deemed a nuisance instead of an opportunity.
Were it not for the Champions League, we wouldn’t really know that the Europa League was about to get underway. There is no major marketing campaign from the leader among football broadcasters in this country. No dramatic music and the biggest of brands such as Playstation and Heineken are nowhere to be seen.
But the Europa League is neither a waste of time nor a breeding ground for young talent. In fact, UEFA’s secondary club competition holds more value than the League Cup, arguably. Instead of bemoaning the arrival of another European excursion that doesn’t involve a trip in the group stages to Barcelona, Munich or Milan, we should be huffing in frustration at yet another domestic cup competition that really serves no purpose for the biggest clubs. But that’s not what the broadcasters and moneymen want you to think.
Even with Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United competing in the Europa League over the past few seasons, the derision for it hasn’t waned. A trip to Amsterdam to face Ajax may seem like a decent start to the weekend, but the bigger picture isn’t focused on the trophy at the end of the tunnel, instead on the idea that it’s just a bit convenient that your team happens to be travelling 40 minutes onto the continent. The perfect excuse.
But make no mistake, it is just England who view the competition with such contempt. Strong words? Yes, but it’s not really inaccurate. Atletico Madrid fielded a strong team on both occasions that they won the trophy in 2010 and 2012. Radamel Falcao’s scoring record in the Europa League continues to be talked up, as scoring 17 goals in Europe against very good opposition is no small feat. While Shakhtar Donetsk’s wealthy president targeted victory in Europe when he took over in 1996; not the Champions League, but a realistic target that would cement their place as one of the regulars in Europe’s premier club competition.
Fans in England weren’t shy of breaking out the jokes when Jose Mourinho lost his first Champions League game back in charge as Chelsea manager against FC Basel on Wednesday night, with the punch line being that Chelsea were well on course to defending their Europa League title. Only in England could the idea be lost that a tangible piece of silverware is on the table.
What many clubs and fans in England fail to recognise is that the Europa League is the necessary first step towards the Champions League. It prepares you for juggling domestic fixtures with those from Europe. Imagine the outrage if a writer tried to argue that the Champions League was an annoyance in the quest for the FA Cup, or that clubs should make use of their academies by fielding young sides. It’s ridiculous, no one would ever seriously think along those lines, so what makes the Europa League trophy, and trophy being the important word, any different?
Ok, the money pot at the end of the Europa League tunnel isn’t great, but how does this sound for hypocrisy? Fans don’t care about finances – or at least they shouldn’t. They’re not impressed by bank balances and remaining firmly in the black, it’s all about trophies. So when it comes down to opportunities for silverware, who cares if the Champions League dwarfs the Europa League in revenue? It’s not to say it’s something UEFA shouldn’t address, but really, no one remembers or cares about the semi-finalist of the 2008 Champions League because they returned home with fatter wallets.
But we forget, forgivably, that most clubs have no right to be in the Champions League. Ok, it’s far more interesting than it was – to the wider football community, that is – but it’s all fuelled by money, not sporting matters. In a logical sense, the Europa League, as I have argued, is the perfect precursor to the European Cup. How many teams in the major competition can win it? Out of 32 there are probably five, if that. So what’s the point in the rest of it?
I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy the Champions League, I do, but the lofty position of snobbery that most have adopted towards the Champions League’s sister competition needs to come to an end. Not only because it’s ridiculous and undeserved, but largely because it makes no sense.
Is the Europa League a nuisance in the football calendar?
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