The Europe League when compared to the Champions League is a bit of a joke; a Mickey Mouse competition. The disparity between the two in terms of prestige is greater than the difference between the FA Cup and the Carling Cup. It is more like the FA Cup and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Despite this season’s edition featuring the likes of Juventus, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the competition doesn’t really matter and that these clubs don’t want to be there. In the past, teams like Aston Villa and even Bolton have put out weakened sides in the competition showing how contemptible it really is.
UEFA have gone some way to fixing the problem this season by overhauling the group stages to make more sense. Now at least all the teams play each other home and away; the previous arrangement was laughable at best. But there are still measures that need to be taken to give the tournament credibility as a competition.
First of all, the whole notion of dropping teams in from the Champions League needs to be looked at. It only reinforces the competition’s status as a booby prize that teams that fail in the Champions League get a place in the knockout round of the Europa League. Frankly, most of the teams that drop out of the Champions League are embarrassed to be in the perceived lesser competition and it is harsh on the teams that qualify through the Europe League groups that these sides’ reward for failure is the same as their reward for topping a group.
In addition to closing the door on the Champions League dropouts, UEFA should also consider increasing the financial incentives on offer. The prize money in the Champions League far outweighs that on offer in the Europa league and sharing out the wealth could do wonders for the competition.
As well as prize money, the winner of the Europa League should gain qualification into next season’s Champions League. The Champions League was originally intended as a competition for champions; it is now flooded with sides that view a fourth place league finish as a success so perhaps cup winners deserve their place in the competition too.
Something certainly needs to be done as the Europa League is something of a laughing stock right now. Some would advocate making the competition defunct such is its lowly statys, but with the right gentrification, it could yet be a trophy worth winning.