Whatever happened to the Europa League? Once a proud and respected competition now, for many teams, an unglamorous, barely profitable inconvenience. When Tottenham slipped out of the competition last season they did so with little or no complaint. You could tell from Redknapp’s squad selection that he wasn’t particularly bothered, and that sentiment appeared to spread to the players and fans.
It’s hard to blame the fans for feeling this way. After having played Champions League football why would you want the hassle of a competition with more travelling and less reward?
Re-branded from the UEFA Cup to the Europa League appeared to have the opposite of the desired effect. Instead of seeming like an exciting new contest it just came across as the cheap knock off of the Champions League. Perhaps the equivalent of one of those fake Man Utd shirts from ‘last season’ you find in markets in Greece that still have David Beckham’s face on the front or own brand cereal from Aldi where they’ve just changed one letter like Brosties or Special A.
When the Champions League was expanded in the early 1990’s the danger was that not enough top teams would be left over in the UEFA Cup, and to a certain extent that was true.
It’s still a difficult competition to win with some quality teams but the problem lies in the number of ties that are simply not entertaining. Why would you want to endure Glentoran vs. Vorskla in one of an endless series of qualifying matches in the competition before finally getting to the group stages where such epic battles such as Shamrcok Rovers vs. PAOK were all that were on offer.
Is it ungrateful and unrealistic to not want to go back to second tier European football after having tasted the Champions League? Are we a product of a spoilt society, so concerned with our short-term mentality and only excited by instant and spectacular glory?
You could argue that this has always been the case. Just as those in the second tier of English football only want to be in the Premier League so too those people in the Europa League only want to be in the Champions League.
It would perfectly explain why so many competitions are constantly being re-branded and renamed. It’s easy to complain about how much the governing bodies are destroying ‘traditional’ football but arguably they’re only doing it because it’s what we want, even if we don’t know it.
The problem that UEFA have created for themselves is by expanding the Champions League and therefore reducing the quality of Europa League they inadvertently condemned those teams in the second tier competition.
The better the Champions League becomes the more money there will be available to the participants and therefore the bigger the gap between the teams of the two competitions. For 2010/11, the winner of the Europa League was awarded less than €8m whilst both finalists in the Champions League received over €50m. By taking part in the group stages of last season’s Champions League teams were awarded a minimum €25m whereas the equivalent teams in the Europa League only received €5m.
Therefore the attitude that only the Champions League is worth taking part in makes sense on different levels. Not only will the fans want to witness more exciting, high profile games but also the clubs will receive at least five times more money for doing so.
It is a sad state of affairs that the Europa League’s reputation has slipped so considerably in the last twenty years, but unless UEFA address the issue of an uneven distribution of wealth then it is a problem that could increase exponentially.
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