Is the UEFA Europa League the Poor Cousin of the Champions League?
Very shortly football leagues across Europe will begin the start of their regular season. Along with the return of regular football will be UEFA Champions and Europa League games. The excitement of the Champions League is greatly anticipated with the best clubs in Europe playing each other for the glory of being crown the best in Europe as Barcelona achieved last time around. If you listen to players and club managers it seems the Europa League is a competition that teams want to avoid. There is no doubt that the Champions League is exciting football and very entertaining to watch, especially if your club is involved. The Europa League appears to be a side show or a consolation gift by many. But I think given the chance it can be a very exciting contest if better marketed to the football viewing public and it wouldn’t have to be considered the poor cousin of European football. I will be looking forward to the Europa League this season since my club Tottenham will be participating in the competition.
To be honest I have seen very few Europa League or the old UEFA Cup games due to the broadcasting of the matches in the United States. For the most part the old UEFA Cup and now the Europa League really haven’t factored much in my soccer viewing or general interest, unless Tottenham was participating.
Not being able to view the matches was the biggest problem I had with the competition. Reading or watching a highlight minute video clip isn’t the same as watching the game. Because of that it did put me off. To my knowledge Direct TV is the only provider of the games in the United States, while Fox Soccer covers the Champions League matches. I wonder why Fox Soccer couldn’t carry the Europa League matches as well. I think soccer fans in the United States would find the Europa Leagues matches entertaining. It would make a change from seeing the traditional football giants: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester United, or Arsenal. The big clubs are always shown on TV and unless you’re a supporter of the club it can be a bit boring seeing the same teams play all the time. It would be nice to mix things up and see other clubs play that don’t always get the media coverage. It could introduce the public to other clubs that don’t have the name recognition as the big clubs and at the same time provide exciting matches. It could allow those clubs to further expand their fan base if the matches were to air in same manner as the Champions League matches. Many of the clubs that make it into the Europa League are good sides with many just missing out on a Champions League spot. It would seem UEFA would want to showcase the Europa League to overseas markets especially in the United States. With the creation of MLS in the United States and the growing popularity of soccer in the country it would seem logically to broadcast the matches to a wider audience then is currently being done. In looking at the success of the World Soccer Challenge and other international friendly matches in the United States during the summer I think it would be a wonderful idea. Teams like Manchester United, Real Madrid or AC Milan are known teams in the United States but teams competing in the Europa League most likely don’t have that kind of following and with more coverage of a Stoke City or Hearts could increase their popularity.
It seems to me the Europa League is viewed as a charity competition for those clubs that are not good enough for the Champions League. I think there could be a little bit of truth to that idea. At the group stage of the Champions League there are 32 clubs and 8 of those clubs will find themselves in the Europa League after the group stage matches have ended. The Europa League begins with 48 clubs at the group stage. I think if you want to give a sense of quality to the Europa League reduce the number of clubs. With so many clubs it gives the feeling of a charity competition where everyone can be a winner. Have 32 clubs at the start of the group stage as done in the Champions League. Don’t allow the third place clubs from the group stage of the Champions League to enter the Europa League, just send them home. I don’t see the point in giving them a second chance. Don’t treat it has a hand me down league. Granted not every team can make into the Champions League but that is no reason why there cannot be a competitive second tier level European football competition.
League title chasing clubs have been critical of the Europa League scheduling. However not all clubs fell that way. Tony Pulis of Stoke City and Martin Jol of Fulham have embraced the competition to enhance the reputation of their clubs in European football. Granted no one is really expecting Stoke or Fulham to win the English Premier League title. Nevertheless it still provides a path for them to show off their clubs and face other quality European clubs. Harry Redknapp the Tottenham manager has been very vocal lately about the number of games and the scheduling issue. I think he does present a realistic argument concerning the number of matches and the traveling. In looking at the Champions Leagues on a map most of the teams are close to one another and nicely fitted into Western Europe. However, with the Europa League the teams are more spread out from Western, Central, and Eastern Europe going as far as Israel. Playing the matches on Thursdays and then returning home to play domestic football on the weekend can put a toll on the players. Clubs like Tottenham want to put every effort in the league title race. This rather crowded schedule can provide wonderful opportunities for non first team players to highlight their talents but at the same time put stress on the team. But I think the concerns that Redknapp has outlined are worth looking at and perhaps making changes to lessen the burden on the players and team would be desirable. A possible solution could be reducing the number of matches played and going to a single round robin game. Another possibility is having all Champion League matches on Tuesdays and all Europa League matches on Wednesday or vice versa. In a sense you want to be fair to both competitions and the other obligations they face beyond European competition. Would Redknapp really be upset and complaining if Spurs end up winning the cup, I bet not?
I will make every effort to find an online outlet that will show the Europa League matches, since I don’t have Direct TV I will be out of luck with TV viewing unless I find a local pub or sports bar that will be airing the matches. I look forward to Tottenham playing and hopefully performing well and putting every effort in the matches and win the cup. It will be nice to see other clubs play as well. Although not a Stoke City supporter I am a huge Jonathan Woodgate fan and so I will be eager to see him play in those matches in addition to the league and cup matches, considering all his injuries lately. Instead of treating the Europa League as some charity case, I think the competition has a lot offer and be an entertaining event as well. Yes, those who love the football giants most likely won’t care but I wager to guess there could be a lot of people out there who would really enjoy this second tier European contest.