Europa League: Dispelling the Myth
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on March 10, 2016
The Europa League has long been laden with jeering chants of ‘Thursday Night, Channel 5’ but it’s time to dispel such negative perceptions of the competition.
It would be fair to say that Liverpool have not been at their historical heights in recent seasons and have failed to build on their impressive season in 2013/14 in which they almost claimed the Premier League crown.
But Kevin Kilbane’s claim in the Daily Mail that the Anfield outfit are in a period of ‘demise’ is ludicrous. He also claims that Manchester United have taken a similar step – and uses their participation in the Europe League as evidence.
Kilbane doesn’t just reflect the common delusion that the Europe League is a ‘secondary competition’, lagging somewhat behind its big brother – the Champions League. He reinforces it.
Meanwhile the enigmatic Jürgen Klopp, now in charge at Anfield, recently demonstrated the significance of the Europa League. Taken at face value, his claim that the competition is a ‘mini Champions League’ could be interpreted as a negative opinion.
But that is not what he meant; instead, he intended to highlight the quality of the competition, despite its usual affiliation with teams of lower significance and standing.
Yes, the Europa League incorporates 8 teams that just failed to make the cut in the Champions League group stage and yes, it takes clubs who finish below the Champions League qualification places in their respective leagues.
But no, that doesn’t mean that the teams who participate in the competition are drastically worse than those who participate in its more prestigious equivalent.
Premier League fans should know more than anyone, especially after the current season, that English football is extremely competitive and tight at the top of the table. Even the theoretically commonsense options, the ‘bigger’ and richer sides, could be set to miss out on Champions League football next term.
Klopp acknowledged that his Merseyside outfit will come across some ‘high quality teams’ in the Europa League and it’s hard to disagree with the German coach, with the likes of Manchester United, Spurs, Borussia Dortmund, Athletic Bilbao, Bayer Leverkusen, Valencia and Villarreal all involved.
That is not to mention Sevilla, who have won two consecutive Europa League trophies over the past two years to earn themselves Champions League qualification.
Teams on the continent seem to appreciate the value of the Europa League and it is baffling that English clubs do not.
Especially with clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United looking set to miss out on a top four finish in the Premier League, winning the Europa League is a massive opportunity and provides them with an alternative route into the Champions League.
As Klopp identified, the Europa League road might be a longer route, resulting in more matches and less rest. Ultimately, though, the destination is the same, but the obstacles along the way might be more difficult.
This might sound slightly controversial. But it might just bring my argument home. The Europa League is more difficult to win than the Champions League. Whilst Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will forever remain the three true contenders for the Champions League, there will be a plethora of clubs who are in with a shot of Europa League glory.
The Europa League is also huge for the conventionally ‘smaller clubs’. Winning the league cup and FA Cup earns teams like Hull and Swansea City a place in the competition. This, in turn, provides them with additional financial resources which will be greater appreciate by these types of clubs and can be used to improve their squads.
Then away from the actual clubs themselves, the Europa League gives supporters, especially those of conventionally ‘smaller’ clubs, the opportunity to travel to foreign countries, enjoy new experiences and see how their respective teams fare.
Meanwhile, the Europa League is almost like an intermediate barometer for younger, less experienced players to prove themselves and to demonstrate their ability on a world stage.
Take a look at Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera. Formerly of Athletic Bilbao, his performances for the La Liga outfit against United themselves in the Europa League were probably one of the key factors in developing the Reds’ interest in the Spaniard.
Likewise, Real Madrid, who recently completed the famous ‘La Decima’ by claiming the record 10th Champions League title. One of their recent stars, who subsequently went on to lineup for Manchester United and Paris-Saint Germain is Angel Di Maria. Once again, one factor that attracted Madrid’s interest in the Argentine winger was his impressive displays in the Europa League with Benfica.
And again, Tottenham Hostpur star Harry Kane’s breakthrough came in the Europa League, with the now England international making his senior debut and scoring his first goal for the club in the competition. He has since netted 10 goals in 19 Europa League appearances, even appearing on Real Madrid’s transfer radar in recent months.
Ultimately, it could be argued that some of the ties that are held in the Europa League in it wouldn’t be out of place in the Champions League. After the latest round of fixtures in each competition, you could potentially even argue that the former is a more interesting and entertaining prospect for a neutral supporter.
But Harry Kane’s Spurs did not field a particularly strong team against Borussia Dortmund, losing 3-0 away in the first leg to a first rate lineup produced by the Bundesliga side and effectively knocking them out of the competition already.
Let’s just hope that English sides takes the Europa League a little more seriously a little sooner.