This week heralds the return of Europe’s elite club competition, the UEFA Champions League, oh and the other one of course! Did anyone remember?
Indeed both Rubin Kazan vs. Olympiakos and Braga vs. Besiktas kick off the round of the last 32 (There’s still that many teams involved?) in the competition that will always play second fiddle to its big brother. It is the UEFA Europa League.
But Europe’s best selection of runners up and also rans will now truly be joined by stellar company as both Manchester clubs enter the competition’s mid stages this week. With great standing in the game, we ask ourselves can both City and United raise the profile of UEFA’s lesser competition?
Despite the ramblings of Michel Platini criticising Sir Alex Ferguson’s jibes that the Europa League is a ‘penalty’ for their Champions League failings, for every Red Devils fan it is exactly that; a penalty. Whilst Europa League competition may be sufficient for the likes of Standard Liege, Manchester United know they should be playing last 16 football this week.
For Manchester City, there was less public disappointment with their new Europa League fate but with Mancini’s men still growing into a European force, winning this year’s Europa League wouldn’t be a bad beginning.
In terms of raising the profile of the competition, on paper, Manchester’s finest should work wonders.
With an estimated 660 million supporters worldwide and representing the sixth biggest brand on the globe, according to a 2011 Taylor Nelson Sofres study, Manchester United truly possesses an overwhelming fan base.
Previous club tours to the Far East and America have continued the club’s influence on foreign shores and United are cherished by many who reside far from Salford Quays.
Champions League or not, Manchester United are still likely to recoup a massive viewership despite the vociferous digs from rival supporters at the workplace chanting such audible gems as ‘Channel 5, Channel 5, Channel 5’.
For Manchester City, the footballing public growingly accepts them as a significant force in the world game. With names such as Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva rolling off the tongue, City undoubtedly add flair and vigour to the Europa League’s mid-stages.
Napoli head coach Walter Mazzari said back in 2011 after defeating City
“Manchester City are a great side and were in fantastic form. It was difficult even to think about a victory against them on the eve of the game”.
Like Mazzari, City are now considered one of Europe’s top clubs and their participation can only help to boost the Europa League’s ordinary profile.
Criticised for its long drawn out qualification process and indeed it’s acceptance of Champions League group stage failures, the Europa League hasn’t been shy of controversy.
However, the acceptance of Champions League failures does indeed spice up the competition, whether the original participants like it or not. With last 32 partakers Ajax, Porto, Valencia and the Manchester clubs in the mix, there is a more Champions League feel to the competition’s mid-stages. Teams will certainly look to claim the scalp of the bookies favourites for the trophy.
Whilst sufficient for some, the Europa League will never rival the Champions League in terms of quality, viewership and prestige. With no disrespect, clubs indeed have to finish lower in their respective leagues to qualify for its group stages. By default, it’s structure is inferior in every way to the Champions League. Big teams will always naturally concede that the competition is second best, a chore or a plan B.
Therefore despite Platini’s praise for the Europa League in its own right, it appeals to mediocrity. Manchester City and Manchester United are anything but mediocre and their participation will most definitely raise the profile of this year’s competition. How far can they go? We all know the game isn’t played on paper.
Will Manchester give the Europa League a boost or is it exciting enough already? Follow me @ http://twitter.com/Taylor_Will1989
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