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Should we kill off the Europa League?

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Remember that fabulous Parma team that lifted the UEFA Cup in 1999?

Led then by manager Alberto Malesani the team was made up of superb talent from the back to the front. A young Gainluigi Buffon kept goal, protected by a back three of Lillian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro and Nestor Sensini. Their attacking lines included the creativity of Juan Veron, covered by the combative Dino Baggio, and Hernan Crespo to put the chances away.

I only bring up the case of the formidable team Parma entered into the UEFA Cup that year because of one simple question: of the clubs that now qualify for the UEFA Europa League, could you ever imagine a team with such talent winning the tournament under its new guise?


The delusion of inclusion

A major answer to this question starts with UEFA. The qualification boundaries for the tournament are far too broad. It seems the inclusive policies of Michel Platini in regards to the European club competitions is an attempt to force TV money around the lesser clubs to prevent, or stifle, the financial power becoming exclusive to a select few clubs at the top of Europe’s more lucrative leagues.

This, on the face of it, seems a genuine attempt to make European football more diverse. The inclusion of Debrecen, Unirea Urziceni and APOEL in this years Champions League is testament to this. The reality however is that the teams that are entered into this year’s Champions League, especially from Europe’s biggest leagues (Spain, England and Italy) make those teams that are entered into the UEFA Europa League underneath ill equipped to compete in Europe.

Coupled with this, those who enter into the tournament from smaller leagues are usually never in a financial position to have a squad that is capable of competing either. When the UEFA Europa League was known as the UEFA Cup it suffered from some serious credibility issues and the rebranding of the tournament will mean nothing if UEFA don’t change their policy about who qualifies.

European football should be about the spectacle of two great teams competing with the stadium, squad, and financial stability to cope.

The UEFA Europa League fixtures being held on a Thursday (presumably because UEFA recognise the matches would lose the ratings war with any half-decent Champions League game on a Tuesday or Wednesday) only makes this worse for the clubs competing domestically. It means that they have to travel across several time-zones to play a game of a poor standard, then travel back to their own country for a match on either Saturday or Sunday.

Imagine the kind of mental energy the players have when they return. Fulham’s performance in the Premier League this year acts of a perfect example.

Domestic (financial) survival over european (footballing) glory

europa league 150x150 Should we kill off the Europa League?The UEFA Europa League has to be a more exclusive if it is to gain any kind of respect. One argument could be that the teams from Italy, Spain and England are not taking the competition seriously and as a result blame is placed firmly at their feet for the shortcomings of the quality of matches. But what choice do they have?

Take Tottenham Hotspur who participated in last years UEFA Cup for example. Juande Ramos had left the team struggling for points in the early stages of the Premier League and when Harry Redknapp arrived he had to focus on survival and later moving up the Premier League, this left no place for his more important players during the UEFA Cup tournament and we saw Dean Parrett, John Bostock and Jonathan Obika take to the field.

To a lesser extent the same can be said of Aston Villa this year and last year. AC Milan also did the same when playing Portsmouth at Fratton Park in 2008, as did Bayern Munich elsewhere.

The best example for me is the aforementioned position of Fulham and the team they announced to play CSKA Sofia. Fulham had a fantastic year in the Premier League last year finishing a lofty 7th but Fulham are a team in no way equipped to compete with the demands of Europe this year. Their Premiership position is not guaranteed and neither is there Premier League status (they currently find themselves in 15th) and yet because of the entry requirements for the UEFA Europa League they find themselves due in the Stadio Olympico on the 5th of November.

The issue remains, because the UEFA Europa League is so inclusive the teams from the three big leagues find themselves fighting too-big-a-battle on the domestic front to compete in Europe. The UEFA Europa League’s one saving grace means it still suffers a crisis of integrity. The fact is the majority of the teams in the UEFA Europa League do not have the facilities to compete in Europe.

Granted, there are exceptions. Bayern Munich were involved in the tournament in 2007, Milan the year after that in, and Roma and Valencia have entered this year. This has mostly been down to poor domestic form however, which can never be accounted for. Some credibility is given to the tournament in the form of Champions League drop-outs also.

The cups inception was to create of competition for domestic league runners-up and that is how it should have remained. The spectacle has completely disappeared and serves usually to hinder teams taking part. Winning the tournament offers little prize money, and even less prestige.

It’s a radical step to abolish it, but what purpose does it serve? It creates no great exhibition, and offers very little intrigue apart from the fans of the teams taking part. It’s a cut throat attitude I know, but the Champions League is surely inclusive enough to satisfy the European club calendar.

Comments (9)

  1. I completely disagree with your point of view. I’ll start with the emotional side and argue that European competition, is a fantastic adventure ESPECIALLY for those clubs that don’t usually make the grade. I’ll give you the example of Motherwell, a Scottish club who were awarded a Uefa Fair Play Europa League qualifying spot this season. Save for last season, they only had less than a handful of appearances in Europe throghout their history. They made it through 2 qualifying rounds before being knocked out by Steaua Bucharest. For their players and fans, it was a great and maybe unrepeatable experience.

    I don’t know which club you support but if I were to guess, I’d say that, based on what you wrote, you are probably a fan of a team that qualifies in Europe every year. Just because you consider matches which don’t feature top teams to be exciting, that only means that at most, you should stop watching these games. I assure you that to the fans of the teams involved, European nights have something special about them, whether it’s the UCL or Europa League, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night. If my team plays in Europe, I don’t expect all of Europe to be delighted. I expect them to win and make us, their fans, happy.

    As far as facilities go, let me point out that there are a lot of smaller teams, which you would consider second or even third-rate, which do not have the same ring to them as Real or Chelsea, but which have stadium facilities equal to those of any top club and of which I believe you are not aware of. Have you heard of Sheriff Tiraspol? Do you know of their accomplishments? You wouldn’t, because they don’t really have any, but they are the champions of Moldavia and have one of the best-equipped stadiums in Europe. Besides, did you know that a UEFA committee inspects the grounds of teams qualified for the UCL/Europa League and unless they deem it ‘worthy’ for the competition they are participating in, the club have to play on another stadium in that country, certified by UEFA? I think you are worrying needlessly about facilities. Granted, Ghencea stadium (home of Steaua Bucharest, the team that I support) may not look like Old Trafford, but we’ve had some awesome games in Europe here. We lost 3-5 to Lyon two seasons ago in the UCL group stage after being 2-0 and 3-2 up. If that’s not an exciting game, what is?

    You’re saying there is no quality in the Europa League anymore. Fenerbahce, Panathinaikos, Ajax, Valencia, Lazio, Villareal, PSV, Werder Bremen, Roma, Steaua and Sporting are in this year’s competition, to name some of the bigger names. All of them have been UCL regulars lately. There will never be any progress for all clubs if all you want is an exclusive league where only the top clubs play against each other. Porto and AS Monaco weren’t exactly top tier but they played the UCL final less than 10 years ago.

    Last, regardless of the team you support, they can’t win the league or qualify for the UCL every year. They will eventually finish 3rd, or 4th, or 5th. And then you will be glad they get to play European football in the Europa League.

  2. I am a Bayern Munich fan, and I must say, I do find the Europa League as exciting as the Champions League. Sure, the quality and the draw might not be as high calibre, but the competition allows for the “smaller” teams to have an adventure around Europe. As a Bayern fan, I was of course devastated when we did not qualify for the Champions League after the 06/07 season. But what does calamity mean to a big club? We got Toni, Klose, Ribery, Altintop and Jansen that year and we stormed to take the 07/08 title.

    During the 07/08 season, we were in the UEFA Cup and we were heavy favorites to win it. And guess what, Bayern wanted to win it! We only had one UEFA Cup before and winning a European trophy with a great domestic season would have given us a TREBLE.

    I anticipated every UEFA Cup match and Bayern did have some negative results. We drew with Aberdeen and Bolton, were put on the edge by Getafe and finally we were hammered by Zenit. UEFA Cup’s latter stages are also proving grounds for teams who want to improve their league’s UEFA coefficients, meaning a possible rise in league ranking. With Bremen and Hamburg reaching the UEFA Cup’s finals and semis respectively, the Bundesliga is getting nearer the Serie A.

    The UEFA Cup/Europa League is a good tournament because the possibility of winning TWO European trophies lies in the future for the UEFA CUp winners… they can compete for the Supercup, ala-Sevilla, who are now competing regularly in the Champions League. This goes to prove that Europa League matches are crucial for struggling leagues to raise their rankings and provide a good shock. Rubin drawing Barca? Imagine Sheriff Tiraspol beating Manchester United…

  3. Ah, that Parma side…what went wrong there?

  4. Well put Sera, couldn’t have said it better if I tried…

  5. The thing is. England doesn’t care but the other leagues do.

  6. It depends on where you’re coming from and who you support. In it’s new format I personally see it as a competition for B-Grade teams and CL failures and watch little of it.

    But for supporters of some of those teams it’s a big occasion and an opportunity to improve their profile.

    Others see it as a distraction to domestic competition and, as we saw last season, play weakened teams as a result.

    Would you rather your team secure a CL place in the league or miss-out because of an extended run in the Europa Cup?

    Depending on who you are you’ll have your own view on this.

  7. I think the best way to make the Europa League to become more important is to make it as a qualitfication competition for the Champions League next year and top seeded as well. So that the teams would have more motivation to play the games rather than like Aston Villa putting out 2nd team.

  8. To write off teams like Unirea and APOEL as not worthy of being in the Champions’ League is completely wrong. Unirea undressed Rangers and humiliated them at home the other night while APOEL took the game to FC Porto. YEah, they’re never going to contend for the Champions’ League title, but I am fully with UEFA in giving the “champions” of lesser known leagues full right to be in the Champions’ League.

    If English clubs or clubs from the more prominent leagues find the Europa League a distraction, then so be it. I would reckon that the majority of clubs and fans who participate in the Europa League don’t agree. To view the Europa League in that light is from a purely Champions’ League-centric view point.

  9. When I first heard that UEFA Cup will be no more, I thought both it was a good thing and also a catastrophic plan. I thought that UEFA Cup didn’t have enough games, enough competitors. However, it was really hard to replace because they had only just introduced the group stages and it seemed to be coming into the right direction.
    When Europa League was first introduced I was excited. More teams, more tension, and so many groups (From A-L) so I think that it’s a direction forward.