Friday, 23 September 2011

The Europa League - Football's most loathed competition

Above is a photo of an inconsolable Ian Holloway – who a few hours earlier, saw his adventurous side being relegated from the Premier League. At the time of this photo, the Blackpool manager had just learnt his side could be playing in the Europa League. Holloway reacted by denying his team were eligible and then shrugged at the prospect of playing in the competition. From his emotions its abundantly clear that competing in the Europa League is not even a consolation from being relegated from the Premier League.
Ian Holloway was right.

It turned out that Blackpool were not eligible for a Europa League place spot through the fair play system, but the actions of Holloway surely symbolise just how unfashionable the Europa League is.

Think about it. One of the smallest clubs to ever play in the Premier League view the Europa League as an irritation rather than an opportunity to make the club grow.
To say the Europa League has a limited appeal is a huge understatement. Clubs in Italy, Spain and England loath the competition. Most players, managers and supporters sigh at the prospect of competing in the dour Europa League.

The Europa League can be described as doing a house hold chore, such as taking out the garbage or getting rid of the clutter. In other words, it’s a job which has to be done. While the Champions League can be metaphorically described as studying for you’re A-levels or degree. Although it’s a struggle and challenge, there is a sense that it’s a sign of strength, ambition, and desire to fulfil long term aspirations.

Coming back to Europe, there is almost a sense of arrogance from teams in Italy, Spain and England. Instead of seeing the competition as a privilege and a chance to gain respectable European success, they see the competition as a tortuous chore rather than an opportunity.
There is no denying, this attitude must change. Being in Europe, whether it’s the Champions League or the Europa League, it must be viewed as a symbol of ambition, rather than a symbol of misery.

But the harsh reality is that a lack of ambition in the Europa League is rife.
For instance, Tottenham’s media friendly manager, Harry Redknapp labelled his sides tie against POAK a ‘nuisance’ and made 10 changes to his side. Redknapp started 6 players who were 21 years old or even younger. His selection was probably unrecognisable to even the most ardent Spurs fans.

Indeed, Tottenham’s Redknapp isn’t the first to do this, many English clubs such as Aston Villa, Liverpool and big Italian sides have done the same too.
To most people, when a team field a virtual reserve side in a European Competition it’s somewhat irritating.

The whole point of participating in a competition, especially a European one, the ultimate aim should be to win it. Yet, playing a team full of reserve and fringe players demonstrates an attitude of content if the team goes out.

With teams selecting highly weakened sides for the Europa League, one cannot deny the competition has lost its prestigious nature and its allure.

But why has this become the case?

The answer is simple and logical.

The Europa League is too bureaucratic, too long winded and too tedious.

By the time the Europa League reaches the group stage it has around 48 teams participating, while it’s bigger brother, the Champions League has a mere 32 sides participating during its group stages. This just emphasises just how over crowded The Europa League is.
Furthermore, last season’s Europa League Champions (FC Porto) played 17 Europa League games in order to reach the final. That equates to nearly half a domestic season’s worth of games in order to win the competition.

So it’s understandable why teams are so reluctant to participate in the competition. The road to glory can have severe effects on a club’s domestic performances, especially as Europa games are being played on a Thursday. This means Europa clubs have around three days to recover, prepare and in some cases travel numerous air miles before facing their next opposition on a Sunday.

Does it really surprise many if a team comes back from a Europa League tie, fatigued and severely incoherent? The competition demands a hell of a lot, but in rewards, it gives a little.
Arguably, only teams with large squads can just about cope with the competition. Although, most of these teams with the larger squads find themselves competing in the Champions League. Or if they are in the Europa League, they view the competition as a hindrance to progression, rather than as a means to progress.

Perhaps a reason why some clubs view the Europa League as a hindrance to progression is due to the mediocre revenue which is created by participating in the Europa League.
It’s reasonable to say The Europa League doesn’t offer as much in terms of economic gains for teams participating in the competition. While in direct comparison, the Champions League offers an incredible amount of cash for clubs participating in the tournament.

Last season’s Champions League finalists, Manchester United earned themselves £46.1 million from Champions League revenue. While Europa League winners, FC Porto, approximately earned a mere £15million. As the figures prove, there is massive gulf in difference in the cash earned. So is it surprise that some teams find the Europa League a nuisance? It’s evidently transparent; the lack of financial gain is a dominating factor as to why some teams are unwilling to take the Europa League seriously.

In some respects, UEFA have themselves to blame for the lack of respect towards the Europa League. After all, if the financial gains were more balanced between the two competitions, teams would be more willing to participate in the Europa League.

While clubs in the Europa earn a handful of millions, teams in the Champions League earn pockets full of millions. No one can deny, once a team participates in the Champions League. They do not look back. They want to return and continuously compete in the Champions League. So when the drop outs of the Champions League appear in the Europa League, they enter the tournament unenthusiastically. They know the competition doesn’t possess the same status as its older brother, nor does it give anywhere near the same financial gains as the Champions League.

The harsh reality of the Euorpa League is that it has not adapted to the modern game and its mentality. The competition gives away very little in economic gains and the football is elongated with too many stages. Without a doubt, this has lead to the competition having little appeal, little glow and little respect.

The fact most Europa League participants see the competition as a punishment rather than an opportunity it just demonstrates the fatal flaws within the structure and mechanisms of the tournament.

There is no doubt the Europa League is in a state of redundancy, UEFA need to act quickly in order to revive their large historic competition.

For your information UEFA, changing its name again, will not do the trick.

Here at The Football Front, we have explored some ideas which could possibly improve UEFA's Europa League.

Four ways to improve the Europa League

1.) Get rid of the group stages - Since the introduction of the group stage the Euorpa League has become even more tedious and long winded. Abolishing this stage will make the competition more interesting as there would be a knockout stage which is consistent throughout the whole tournament.

2.) Playing one legged ties - Playing one legged ties will make the competition more enthralling as its virtually sudden death. This will make most of the games have a sense of excitement, anticipation and suspense towards them. At the moment the games are dour for long stages simply because teams are unwilling to concede or because they are playing for the second leg.

3.) Give the winners of the Europa League a right to play in the Champions League - Allowing the winners earn Champions League qualification it will give the Europa League something viable for its competitors to fight for.It will interest all the teams in the tournament, especially the bigger sides, as they want to play in the Champions League more than anything else.

4.) Play Europa League games on alternate Tuesdays and Wednesdays to the Champions League - This may be a fixture and logistical nightmare, but if the Europa League is played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, when the Champions League is not being played, it may make the tournament worth competing for to some clubs. After all, it gives the teams time to recover and prepare for their next opposition on the weekend.

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