Qualifying for any European competition used to be the signal for a successful season within the English game, but in recent years this has not been the case.
Without all the glamor and reputation of the Champions League, there lies Europe’s secondary footballing competition: the Europa League.
Hosted on Thursday evenings, and seeing teams forced to travel to far away fields such as Maribor, Chisinau and Baku; the Europa League has become more of a distraction than a reward for many of the teams from major footballing nations who have Champions League aspirations.
But even to English teams who have more modest aspirations, the Europa League is considered an inferior competition to the FA Cup and to the Premier League campaign.
Newcastle United, a team that finished on the cusp of Champions League qualification last time out, have been seen to field severely weakened squads for their foray into the Europa League.
Granted, their squad doesn’t boast the greatest quality in depth, but it is less than likely that Newcastle United break into the top four so should the Europa League be the limit of their aspiration, and thus place more emphasis on this competition?
There is an element of disrespect shown toward the formerly UEFA Cup competition, especially by clubs from England. Tottenham Hotspur failed to qualify for the Champions League in 2010/2011 and were forced to participate in the Europa League last time out – much to the mocking of Liverpool fans (a team that had failed to qualify for any European competition).
Tottenham showed the competition a great deal of disregard as they fielded teams made up of youth and fringe players, so their first team squad was not disrupted in their chase for Champions League qualification.
It is not just English teams, however, who consider this competition interference to their season. Teams from Spain, Italy, France and Germany all treat this competition with less value – so should UEFA work on making this competition more attractive to its competitors?
Money plays a huge part in modern-day football, and the financial rewards put in place for partaking in the Europa League are hugely overshadowed by Champions League money.
In 2011, Porto were awarded just over €7m for their Europa League Final victory in Dublin: pittance compared to Chelsea’s €47m for their Champions League victory last season.
To ensure that the competition is worthy of each team (regardless of stature) putting their all in to win it, UEFA could look at lessening this difference. Although, the premise of offering Champions League winners less money seems unfair.
Because of the unrealistic nature of this claim, UEFA should offer the winners of the competition the opportunity to enter the Champions League at an early qualifier stage at the hands of a team in one of the lesser UEFA coefficients (the Cypriot league is offered two Champions League places…).
That way, the teams involved will, for the most part, place more emphasis on winning the tournament - because winning the Europa League could be seen as an easier way into the Champions League than by league qualification.
UEFA have frequently come under criticism for their running of European competition - so another option could be a re-jigging all of their currently active tournaments.
The Champions League is open to teams who finish in fourth position in the English, Spanish and German leagues – hugely undermining the name of the tournament.
There could well be a tournament for league winners (the actual Champions League, if you will), then another competition for the next bracket of teams. These teams could be made up of the remaining UEFA coefficient places allocated for each country.
This premise would mean that Europe would have two very reputable club competitions.
Something is needed to be done with regards to the Europa League. A seemingly unwelcome distraction for most teams in major footballing leagues, more needs to be done to ensure that these top clubs field strong teams.
With stronger competition on the club side, European football as a whole will grow even stronger than it already is.
How do you feel? Is it time for UEFA to shake things up in Europe?
image: © nicksarebi