Time for Tottenham’s European attitude to change?
You often got the impression during Harry Redknapp’s reign as Tottenham manager, that if he’d won the Europa League, he’d use the trophy as a doorstop or an elaborate vase, such was the way in which he valued Europe’s secondary cup competition. The pain of playing league games on a Sunday, the indignity of appearing on Channel Five and the unglamorous Thursday night excursions to Eastern Europe, seemed to be a little too much for the now former Spurs manager.
But for all its misgivings, it still represents the chance to bring some silverware to the club that requires a fair bit of prestige and pedigree to attain it. Considering their last European triumph, in the guise of the Uefa Cup, came in 1984, why shouldn’t Tottenham Hotspur try to win the Europa League next season?
The detractors are probably already reading this aghast with mockery and there can be no denying that the current Europa League format has its fair share of serious faults. The group stage element feels bloated and unnecessary, especially to clubs looking to make a sustainable assault on the Premier League as well.
There are obvious issues in the concept of starting a full-strength XI in Kazan on a Thursday and then expecting them to come out all guns blazing for the league game on the Sunday. Considering you have to play six times before you even reach the knockout stages, then it is understandable that managers and fans have reservations about putting all their resources into the Europa League’s opening phases.
The riches and necessity of the Uefa Champions League , also serve to blur the relevance of it’s little, Europa brother. The swell in Spurs’ revenue to the tune of over £30million during their Champions League season, tells you everything you need to know. Champions League football brings in more money, more money means better players, etc. It’s not rocket science to divulge why everyone around the club wants and needs to get back in there and if that means sacking off a trip to PAOK Salonika, then so be it.
As a footnote too, the opportunity to blood some of Tottenham’s youngsters was a pleasure to see for all involved. Much more could be done to give some of the kids a chance in the Premier League, but credit where it’s due to Redknapp.
But the lampooning of the Europa League feels like it amounts to something of a witch-hunt in the national press. Nobody denies that the riches and grandeur of the Champions League are unrivalled. But there is something quite macabre and depressing about the mockery and devaluation of the Europa League. Football is all about business and balance sheets, but why are we all so keen to dispose with the chance to go to a European Cup final and win some silverware, just so we can attain a fourth or fifth placed league finish? The annuls of history remember the likes of Mark Falco, Graham Roberts and Steve Archibald as they sank Anderlecht in the ’84 Uefa Cup final. Will they really look back so fondly at a team, who say, finished a gallant fifth under the new manager next season?
There is a clear element of romanticism and nostalgia from 1984 that isn’t quite so applicable in today’s footballing landscape- of course, the game has changed immeasurably since then. But look at the teams and the ties that came about once you discount the excessive group phase element last season. Lazio, Porto, Ajax and Valencia are all European teams with pedigree and history; needless to say, they offer some fantastic away-days for supporters.
Some of the football played in the latter stages too, was outstanding. All of the ties in the round of 16 were highly competitive, superb examples of European football. How can fans turn the nose up at the ‘quality’ on show, after the way Athletic Bilbao dismantled Manchester United? Is it that we’re so blinded by the supposed all-conquering Premier League, we’ve lost sight of what genuine quality and achievement is?
The Bilbao tie against United in particular, raised some uncomfortable truths for English football. But the papers had it down as nothing more than a bad day for United. Of course, how could the Europa League, a European cup-competition, offer anything in the way of real quality? But over two-legs, the team that finished second in our domestic league, were completely outmaneuvered by a team that finished 10th in La Liga. We need to take the blinkers off- winning the Europa League is a superb achievement.
Before people point to it’s glaring lack of financial clout too, it should be noted that the Europa League cannot and should not be viewed in the same league as either of the domestic cups- Fulham’s run to the final in 2010 brought them £12million in extra revenue. It’s hardly anything to be laughed at.
Perhaps the problem lies more with the financial pressures of football, than it does with the aspirations of clubs. The fact any club who simply reaches the Uefa Champions League group stage will earn more than the eventual winners of the Europa League is warped and wrong, and it is skewing the priorities of football clubs.
Of course supporters want a bite of the big apple and the riches that come with it and Spurs fans are no different. Having sampled the tastes of the San Siro and the Santiago Bernabeu, why would you not want more? Maybe it’s because it has been that long since winning a trophy, that we’ve forgot what it feels like.
Watch the scenes at the end of Atletico Madrid’s 3-0 win over Bilbao in the Europa League final. That is what football should be about. Winning trophies, basking in glory and putting your name in the history books. Once we get past the stigma that this country seems to have built up around the Europa League, hopefully we will give it our best shot to try and lift the thing. Winning one European trophy will feel a hell of a lot sweeter than celebrating qualifying for another. For now, anyway.
How does the Europa League make you feel? A worthless obstacle in the way of Champions League riches? Or the chance to bring some silverware to the mantle at White Hart Lane? I want to hear what you think, for all things Spurs, follow @samuel_antrobus