UEFA’s plans to establish a much more attractive secondary competition in Europe looks to be on the right track. And this season’s Europa League tournament is likely to catch the eye in the same way that last season’s knockout phase did.
American sports fans have it good: Four very different sports on offer and only four leagues to keep an eye on – because who really watches the Canadian Football League? And while I’m hardly complaining about the wealth of football on offer in Europe (that would be bordering on blasphemy), the Europa League is doing well to add its name to a growing list of leagues worth watching.
Now, most won’t be too bothered unless their team is competing. Like Serie A, La Liga and all the other leagues, the Europa League will fall into a category of completely dispensable competitions. Maybe it will have to take Barcelona or Manchester United competing in it regularly to draw the widest possible audience.
But like last year, the Champions League’s little brother, who was given an absolutely necessary makeover, will feature a host of teams that are worth watching.
Falcao should be enough to peak the interest of most neutrals, for lack of a better word. And his excellent performance both last year for Atletico and the year prior with Porto is likely to continue. He’s made the competition his own, and his two wonder goals in last season’s final were of a high enough standard to be included and immortalised in the Allianz Arena.
But it’s the stigma that UEFA will struggle to shake. The Thursday nights joke may never come to an end within football banter, and who really wants to be associated with that competition? Certainly not regulars of the Champions League.
But are football fans concerned about the name on a trophy or the quality of football? Bilbao’s game against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season was one of the better matches in all of European competition, and there is no escaping the talent that will be on display again this season. It’s often that you hear fans bemoaning a lack of football and having to wait until the weekend. Should we apologise for your club not competing in a tournament outside its domestic league? There doesn’t have to be a negative view of a competition that UEFA are desperate to change the fortunes and image of.
Edinson Cavani will lead a determined, albeit noticeably weaker, Napoli into the tournament, and Tottenham should be good viewing with a manager hungry for success for the second time in three years. Inter Milan, Liverpool and Leverkusen will also add to the weight of high-profile names.
The inclusion of Manchester United and Manchester City last season did a lot to boost the interest in the competition. And even though there are a number of fans who would be keen to follow clubs like Ajax in Europe, UEFA are deeming themselves extremely fortunate to have another round of big names to draw in sizable audiences.
Prior to the change of name, you’d either have to have been keen on the talent at Shakhtar Donetsk, or a Werder Bremen supporter to switch over to the Uefa Cup. It will take a lot more than just half-a-season’s worth of play to change the makeup of the Europa League, but at least things are moving in the right direction for UEFA.