In a week that has seen the touted shake up of the European cup competitions come to the fore, it’s been the fate of Uefa’s box office event in the guise of the Champions League, that’s captured all the headlines.
Indeed, the notion of expanding the competition to accommodate a larger amount of teams, has provoked some fierce debate around the continent. Some have welcomed the idea as an opportunity to give more teams a chance to dine upon Europe’s richest table of all. Others have lamented the further dilution of the European cup, longing for a return to a format where it truly was only champions plying their trade in the competition.
But it was the suggestions brought to light in The Guardian this week, regarding Uefa’s grand designs for the much-maligned Europa League competition, that really caught the imagination. Suggestions that possessed more than a little gravitas when applied to our own domestic cup formats.
The whispers emanating from European governing body’s Swiss headquarters in Nyon, are that the winners of the Europa League may be granted, amongst an increased pot of prize money, qualification into the Champions League competition. While such an idea couldn’t be implemented until 2015 at the earliest, it certainly offers an interesting prospect for the future of a cup format that has often been plagued by a culture of deprioritizing from some of Europe’s clubs.
Of course, much of the contempt that is thrown torwards the Europa League exudes from clubs within the Premier League, where the tournament has often been viewed as a scornful distraction to the bread and butter – not to mention, the added riches on offer – from the Barclays Premier League. The carrot of a Champions League place would go a long way to soothing the pain of Thursday night, Eastern European sojourns.
Although while such a measure would undoubtedly boost the credentials of the Europa League, it certainly offers some interesting food for thought for the cup competitions contested solely on these shores.
Because for all the Europe League’s troubles in recent seasons, it doesn’t remain the only cup contested for by English teams, that finds itself in a spot of bother. The FA Cup is historic; it’s intertwined into the history of the game in our country, our clubs and it’s generated some of the landmark moments in the history of the English game. But just because it doesn’t have the same amount of naysayers and detractors as the Europa League, doesn’t mean that parallels aren’t there to be made.
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As with most things in society, the outlook of English football has changed immeasurably in the last 20 years. Where as once the FA Cup final was something of a landmark cultural event, it is in some ways, just another fixture. That may hurt the romanticists to read and despite that sentiment, it’s not to say that football supporters have instigated this change or that they’re all in agreement as such.
But we’re living in an era in which the FA Cup final is no longer given the pedestal of which it once proudly sat. Where as it was once the curtain call on the season’s domestics proceedings, that accolade now sits with the Premier League, and Sky’s all-you-can-eat satellite extravaganza of final day games.
It’s also an era in which the FA Cup isn’t even granted the right of being the sole box office fixture on its day of play. FA Cup Final day was a centerpiece of the English football calendar, a day in which all eyes within the game across the country, were focused upon Wembley. Now, it jostles for the nation’s interest alongside a raft of Premier League games – it’s even had to delay it’s kick off time to fight for a bigger audience.
You can go on in a lot more detail about the issues that have plagued the FA Cup’s devaluation, but the point is, if Uefa choose to boost the Europa League with a Champions League place, the FA Cup is likely to fall even lower in teams’ list of priorities. So how about fighting fire with fire?
Allocating a Champions League place to the winners of the FA Cup isn’t something that would go down well with all supporters and the chances of it happening at the moment feel very slim indeed. In terms of pure entertainment value however, it’s not half a tantalizing prospect.
The initial beauty of everyone from Chelmsford City to Accrington Stanley plying their trade in a competition that could eventually see them square off against Europe’s elite is superb. The FA Cup used to be a competition that caught the imaginations of fans. It certainly would then, however absurd it seems.
Of course, the cynics out there would likely suggest that teams would be playing more for European qualification, than the actual trophy itself. And in some ways, that’s probably absolutely correct. But you can guarantee that every season, we’d be treated to English football at it’s very best. Imagine every team fielding their strongest side, going hell for leather in the madness of a cup format?
We’ve been so vetted to lap up the all conquering razzmatazz of the Premier League, that it sometimes feels like we forget what football is about. To steal a line off Danny Blanchflower, the game is about glory. Winning trophies and writing your name into the history books should be worth so much more than fighting for a fourth placed finish in the league.
Adding a Champions League place to the FA Cup may well seem like a cheap way of adding prestige back to the competition. But how nice would it be to see English football go against conformity and try and revalue our premier cup completion, injecting a bit of desperately needed spontaneity and unpredictability in the process?
It’s likely that it will be those that currently enjoy the riches of English football, whom will object the loudest to such a suggestion. If that’s the case, then what bigger reason do you possibly need?