This week has been a challenging one on what to write about in terms of football. Are Chelsea dull? Big up Bournemouth? Farewell Tranmere? None if the above.
My attention is pointed in the direction of the Europa League. Like a middle child, the Europa League has to do something extraordinarily good or bad to get noticed but I believe shouldn’t this stigma attached. The main reason for this, primarily in England, is not because of exposure but because of the negative connotations that our media given off by the stance of our bigger clubs falling into it. I use the term “falling into” because that is the perception grasped by anyone who’s ever read or heard the lines of “vying for fourth spot, missing out and having to settle for the Europa League next season”. Teams shouldn’t be settling for anything, as a football fan, I long to see entertaining football and what is as exciting as a foreign team to be playing on British soil to compete for a continental cup?
The main David versus Goliath example is the age old, Spurs missing out on a top four spot and a “plucky” side pushing it all to the end aka, your Southampton. I know I’m going cliché crazy at this point don’t worry. Spurs have naturally had to accept over the last couple of seasons that they will compete for the top four and when it work out, they’d have to settle for The Europa League places. When this has been the case, long-travelled journeys to Russia and Eastern Europe are a nightmare prospect for say Pochettino who needs compete vastly on four different fronts, like Germany circa April 1945. Yes clubs have to rotate heavily, but the correct use of something as prestigious as the competition can be can prove valuable to a younger generation, in which Spurs actually are starting to do very well.
At some point though, there then becomes a turning point from development into serious contenders. It’s normally at this point things tend to go not so well for English clubs, which invariably, has happened this year. I hoped that Everton would take it seriously and get far if not do a Fulham, given the quotes earlier in the season from Martinez, but the Spanish swooner was unfortunate in losing out to Dynamo Kiev. In order to compete Everton have lost their footing on numerous occasions and cups, which leads to the fact that they’re competing for top 10 as opposed for that illustrious “I’ll get you into the Champions League” campaign which saw him hired on. At this point I’m quite happy it took 396 words to mention Champions League, but it’s hard not to draw it into the equation when talking about European football, given that the most valuable accolade of winning the Europa League is not a name in history, nor the trophy/winners medals, no, it’s the idea of getting into the Champions League the next season. Don’t even mention the Super Cup at this point.
Yes, I can understand that clubs have to heavily rotate in order to compete on all fronts, especially in England, given the FA Cup, League Cup, Premiership and Europa, but to be one of those illustrious clubs you have to do that in order to get recognised. Clubs aren’t set in stone over time due to someone writing on a piece of silverware “Someone FC, played well, but didn’t win” well at least in the long-term anyway. Noticeable trends for the Europa League is that fringe players are getting more of a look in, which is helping out England in the long-term. An example of this is the emergence of one Harry Kane who’s rise due to promise shown through exposure in both the cups in England and Europa League. Without the vast amount of matches this season, he wouldn’t have been able to reach Gary Lineker levels of goals.
I think with this we should ultimately dispel the idea that the Europa League is either a platform to get into the “holy grail” Champions League or, something like an obstacle or tester pot. We should be celebrating the fact that we’ve got something like the Europa League and if we continue in the manner that we face it, certain teams excluded, then we can only lose seeding positions, something that teams face for how well we do in European matches. Granted there are a few kinks and undesirables that need to be looked over by both UEFA and the Premier League, but we should be celebrating the idea not condemning or “settling for”.