With four games of the Premier League campaign left, Fulham are leading the ‘race’ for seventh place and for the Cottagers it will be a rare European adventure. This would of course be via the all singing, all dancing UEFA Europa League.
This ‘new’ competition was created by reformatting and re-branding the ailing UEFA Cup. Normally to fans of most teams, seeing their beloved club in participate would be something to look forward to. But it appears that until the latter stages of this competition hardly anyone actually seems interested. My memories of the UEFA Cup in recent years seem to have followed a similar pattern. watch the final but pay little/no attention to the barely watchable early rounds that in recent years have thrown up classic encounters between European giants like Bolton Wanderers and Aris Thessaloniki.
No direspect to the teams mentioned above but I do wonder how many neutrals actually tune in to ITV4 to watch these games? Granted in the latter stages of the competition when the bigger clubs like Manchester City and Hamburger SV rip into each other we are once again interested.
The major problem with the UEFA Cup/Europa League, is that it is without doubt a second class competition. This is likely to be down to the hype that surrounds it’s bigger sibling the Champions League. I am fully aware that UEFA are in business to make money but even the Champions league appears to be losing a bit of prestige. “How so?” I hear you ask. Simple, the name of the competition is the Champions League. How many champions actually participate? The last time I checked, teams that finish second, third and fourth not champions.
It seems a bit unfair on teams from the ‘lesser leagues’ that win their domestic title and then have to go through the qualifying rounds and invariaby don’t get the chance to play at Old Trafford and the Nou Camp etc while a team from England that finishes 12 points from top gets the likes of Real Madrid and Inter Milan in their group. This being said, it would be hypocritical of me to back that statement 100 percent. After all, I’d sooner watch Liverpool vs Real Madrid than watch Llanelli take on the likes of NSI Runavik.
One of UEFA’s strategy to make the UEFA cup more exciting was to drop third placed Champions League teams into the competition. What a lovely kick in the face that is for the teams who have been in the competition from outset. I can understand that the likes AC Milan at Fratton Park last year was genuinely exciting but most of the time you would expect teams from Greece and Norway to drop into the Europa League. Again this approach is what makes it such a second class competition in the first place. I don’t believe for one minute that Europa League will ever hold the prestige that it did in it’s previous guise as the UEFA Cup in years gone by. Quite simply the standard of many of the teams isn’t good enough as the better teams have already participated in the Champions league – even if they finished fourth domestically. And in any case, managers will rather turn their focus to the Premier League and the FA Cup.