As we reported on a number of weeks ago, the UEFA Executive Committee has finalized the change in name of the UEFA Cup to the UEFA Europa League starting in the 2009-10 season. Along with the new name come major changes to the competition, which will feature a 48-team group stage.
Changes to the name, logo and brand identity of the competition are seen by UEFA as the next logical step following the decision to alter the format of the UEFA Cup and create a true group stage, with both home and away matches. That decision was made back in December 2007 so this is not an overnight decision.
UEFA’s ambition in making all these changes is to rejuvenate the competition that has fallen into the shadows of the massive success of the Champions League. The UEFA Cup, which was introduced in 1971-72 season and replaced the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, has been the only European club competition other than the Champions League since the Cup Winners’ Cup was dropped in 1999. The fact that clubs who have failed to survive the group stage of the Champions League continue in the UEFA Cup has contributed to its perception as a second-rate event and the general perception is still that the ‘big clubs’ will be in the Champions League.
However, I think the UEFA Cup/Europa League is an important and often underrated competition. While perhaps not as prestigious as the Champions League, it does offer other clubs a vehicle to earn extra revenue and gain experience playing against clubs outside their domestic league. It seems to be mostly the mainstream media and a large number of bloggers that trash the UEFA Cup as meaningless but those same outlets are generally only focused on the so-called “glamour” clubs.
I think if you ask fans of the clubs involved in the UEFA Cup, they are happy to be there and competing for a trophy. There have been some great matches in the UEFA Cup including last season’s final and semi-final involving Zenit St Petersburg. That club is a prime example of what this competition can do for a ‘smaller’ club that is looking to advance itself.