There is no comparison to being crowned champions of Europe. Chelsea’s supporters will look back on the final in Munich last year as one of the highest points in their lives and in their club’s history. It seems a little difficult, however, to imagine the same fans looking back at triumph in the Europa League in the same way. Sure, despite what many in England will say it is still a high-profile competition. But such is the reputation of the Europa League in England – combined with Chelsea’s recent winning history – that a win in Amsterdam against Benfica could be resigned to that list of peripheral trophies made up by the League Cup and Community Shield (and FA Cup).
It’s just the way it is in this country. It’s the same reason why the South Americans place so much weight in the Olympics and we don’t. Clubs on the continent view the Europa League as a great achievement in their history, and arguably plenty of that feeling is drawn because of the circumstances surrounding their domestic league. This isn’t the height of Chelsea or the limit of what they’re capable of. The fans will enjoy the moment should they win back-to-back European trophies, but it will be the effects of the win on Chelsea that could determine how the Europa League is viewed in England in the coming years.
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The competition is still viewed as a nuisance to far more important objectives over the course of the season. You have to wonder how many supporters in England would look forward to the away day offered by final more than the prospect of lifting a trophy. That’s not to be cynical, but rather to accept that none of the big clubs in England go out of their way to say they’d like to win UEFA’s secondary club competition. In fact, most fans who are used to playing on the Champions League’s designated days of Tuesday or Wednesday would loathe the idea of having to head off to a football game on a Thursday. It’s absurd when you think about it, who really wants to watch football on a Thursday? Or a Friday for that matter? And that is a nod to the upcoming Copa del Rey final to be held this Friday.
The Europa League will not be seen as a means to stepping forward to greater things for Chelsea. Others have done so in the past, using the experience and success gathered from the competition to propel themselves forward both domestically and in Europe. Porto have done so, winning the UEFA Cup the season prior to lifting the Champions League. Shakhtar Donetsk, too, have built a good reputation in European football, aided certainly by their win over Werder Bremen in 2009. In addition, Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone are competing in their second cup final in two seasons, while also having gone a long way in attempting to break up the duopoly held at the top of La Liga by Barcelona and Real Madrid.
But it’s not the same in England, and it’s most certainly not the same for Chelsea. If they win it, they won’t look at the competition in a totally different way. Sure, some may try to offer it some credibility among the biggest club trophies currently available, but you don’t sense that they’d be all up for competing for that title again anytime soon.
What the Europa League needs is an overhaul (yes, another one) and greater incentives for winning the competition. But for it to be a success in England, clubs actually need to be able to build some success off the back of winning it. You look to clubs like Everton, Tottenham and probably Liverpool, who are most certainly trying to get back among the top four in the Premier League, and argue that this competition could do a lot for their growth domestically. It helps that Tottenham have a manager who wouldn’t turn his nose up at the Europa League having won it previously with Porto, while a cup is a cup for a club like Everton. It offers openings to further successes both in terms of silverware and also on the transfer front.
Victory for Chelsea won’t offer much in the way of swinging the view of most supporters in the country. For the Europa League to be seen in the same light as it is on the continent, England need to see its benefits first hand. Chelsea certainly won’t offer that this season.
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