UEFA are doing all they can to make their secondary competition a little more attractive. Well not necessarily all they can, but they’re moving in the right direction by offering qualification to the Champions League. Although try to spot the irony.
The thing about this, and especially with regards to teams like Tottenham, is they still have to win the tournament that they so often look down upon. Is there now an incentive to go all out and prioritise it over the league? Absolutely. But people’s perceptions of something aren’t likely to swing so dramatically over night.
Let’s not forget that the Europa League can be as tedious or confusing as anything in football. The competition starts in the summer for some, while the Thursday-Sunday fixture list that is sure to overpower the calendar is nothing short of a headache.
What always seems to be forgotten, however, is that the Europa League is good preparation for the Champions League. For most teams who compete in UEFA’s secondary club competition, there isn’t much of a gulf in class between them and those regularly in the Champions League. What it often comes down to, however, is the matter of experience and juggling the congested fixture list.
What needs to be taken away from UEFA’s latest decision to enhance their competition is that finally football in England may be focused on the drive for trophies above all else. How tired does the whole thing about the “race for fourth” get? Let’s not bang on about whether it’s as good as a trophy or not, the simple fact is that this sport has been taken away from what actually is important. For those still competing in the Europa League in the second half of the season, there will and should be a desire to go after silverware knowing that it offers a ticket to battle alongside the elite of European football.
The prize money is another thing. With greater reputation will come the increased revenue streams, but I don’t think that’s too much of an issue at this stage. The Champions League will more or less compensate for the chasm in financial reward between the two competitions. Yet once again, it just puts more emphasis on the drive to attain some silverware.
I’m not going to suggest that UEFA should have done this all along, but rather I’m going to ask why it actually had to come to this. Ok, it’s easy to see that the glamour of the Champions League is unrivalled and everyone wants to compete in it. But that competition has been morphed into something it never should have been. The Champions League does nothing to strengthen the meaning behind its name, offering second, third and fourth-placed teams an opportunity to compete alongside the genuine champions. If it went back to the traditional format of the European Cup, perhaps there would be greater prestige and reputation attached to the Europa League. A question to ask: why do fans want to be involved in the Champions League, even if they know their team has little hope of actually winning it?
For now, the incentive is there. Tottenham are already a team who can comfortably finish in the top five in England, and all that was needed was an extra push to force them over the line into the top four. Fortunately the discussion about weighing up top four or an actual trophy may be put to bed. In fact it should be put to bed. For all those who favoured a top four finish over the Europa League a few months ago, I again ask why fans want to be involved in the Champions League.
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