“The Europa League, eh? Well, you’re going to struggle next season!”
Unfortunately, European football’s second tier competition has managed to fashion itself a pretty diabolical reputation over the past few years. It’s a status so damaging that qualification for the tournament has become almost bittersweet in the eyes of many.
A fifth, sixth or seventh placed in the domestic table is certainly credible, but a swathe of supporters greet the mandatory European commitments with a shrug of the shoulders and a “do we have to?”, type of attitude.
The participants will be playing European football, of course, which in itself brings a pedigree and a gravitas. But it’ll be European football on a Thursday night, in front of largely empty stadiums and often in some unknown corner of the continent.
In the English game in particular, the competition has had a detrimental effect on domestic form too, with Newcastle United, Swansea and Tottenham crumbling under the pressure of an extra competition and the inevitable additional demands that come with it.
But whilst it is seemingly the “in” thing to pour scorn over the merits of the Europa League, it’s a competition that has many beneficial facets too. And on the cusp of this year’s final between Sevilla and Benfica, it only seems appropriate to bring them up.
The vast majority match going supporters, for one, will be delighted to have European football to look forward to next season.
From the Premier League, Everton qualified for the competition for the first time in four years, whilst Hull will play on the continent for the first time in their history after their march to the FA Cup final.
The teams met each other on the final day of the domestic season and supporters sang in unison “we’re all going on a European tour”, noticeably excited about the campaign ahead and the new adventures it’ll bring.
For them, travelling around the continent to watch their side in action will make for some very special memories, regardless of what happens on the pitch.
Ian Garmston, from the Cottingham branch of the Hull City Official Supporters’ Club is delighted by his team’s qualification, per the Hull Daily Mail, stating, “I don’t think anyone in their right mind would have expected anything like this. It’s one of those things I never dreamed of being able to see”.
There were still some underpinning concerns, though. He continued “it’ll only be be good though if we maintain our position in the Premier League next season”.
So it begs the question: Is an on-pitch, domestic capitulation really an unavoidable side effect of playing in European football? Whilst this is a common view held by many within the game, there’s a myriad of success stories to suggest otherwise. That suggest quite the opposite, in fact.
The most emphatic indicator of how effective the Europa League can be is the recent exploits of Diego Simeone and his marvellous Atletico Madrid team. Under Cholo, Atletico won the competition in 2010 and again in 2012; at the time of writing, they sit atop of La Liga ahead of juggernauts like Barcelona and Real Madrid, not to mention on the brink of their first ever European Cup triumph.