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Leagues: Europa League

Why the Europa League Still Matters


A lot of football fans and football people in general disregard the Europa League as a status-free, unwanted distraction. The argument goes that it offers neither the financial rewards nor the glamour of its flashy cousin the Champions League and that there are too many games to play.

All that may be true but try telling that to Aston Villa fans today. Once again they have capitulated and been knocked out early in the competition that they spent a long hard season qualifying for by finishing 6th.

Let’s face it, Villa were never going to win the league and finishing 6th three seasons in a row was probably performing to their maximum ability, so the Europa League is the only European trophy they are ever going to be able to compete for – and yet they have fallen way short of the required standard in Europe.

Try telling Villa’s fans this doesn’t matter because it’s ‘only’ the Europa League. You really might as well finish 10th if you’re going to fall at the first European hurdle. It makes the whole of last season seems a bit pointless. All that work to finish so high in the league and the one reward for it is immediately lost.

Surely, European progress is part of building the club into a bigger, more competitive force. It gives young players experience and it puts the whole club in the shop window. The fixtures against other European sides add texture and variety to the season and the chance to visit places you might not normally see.

It is not to be lightly dismissed not least because if it is deemed worthless there is little more point in trying to finish fifth or sixth than there is to finish 12th or 13th and the league will quickly fall into a series of dead rubbers from March onwards.

For a club like Liverpool, desperate for a revival, a good run in the Europa League will be a huge boost to club, fans and players; you could see just how important it was to Hodgson by how he celebrated their winning goal. This wasn’t a nothing tournament to him because he knows it represents a route back to the glory days. A long route it may be but every opportunity must be taken to try and make it happen.

The UEFA Cup used to be a really important and well-regarded trophy – and it was an important one to win for any club. The league format of the Europa League has extended the duration of the tournament and that may not be a good thing but it still matters and really doesn’t deserve to be held in the contempt that it is within some circles.

Editor’s note: John has a new book out We Ate All The Pies: How Football Swallowed Britain Whole. You can read all about it here And you can buy it from here

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  1. B - Rad

    August 27, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    I actually think the Europa League (UEFA Cup) has been way more entertaining over the last few years compared to Champions League (I argue at least 3 of the top 5 matches I have ever seen occurred in the UEFA Cup). In addition, Europa League allows me to watch teams from Eastern Europe and smaller associations that I do care about. It means something to me, mainly the fact more football for me to enjoy.

    I know for a fact, Shakhtar Donetsk have been rubbing the fact that they won the UEFA cup in 08/09 in the faces of Dynamo Kiev, helping further the rivalry between the two clubs.

  2. Sandimas1988

    August 27, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    It all depends on who you are as to if it matters. It’s a burden to manchester united, but a dream for Fulham. And for the last comment, love the Fraking BSG reference

  3. Raatzie

    August 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Two words.

    NIT Europe.

    If you can’t dance with the big boys, leave your dancing shoes home.

    I’d rather be Spurs this year, even if they don’t make it through the group stage, than Liverpool, even if they win NIT Europe.

    • Guitarearl

      August 27, 2010 at 5:23 pm

      OK, so then crap on the Carling Cup. Crap on the International friendlies. Crap on anything other than the Premier or Champions League! Nothing is ever worth playing, just have all the also-ran players go home and get jobs pumping sewage out of tanks.

      Obviously the Europa League doesn’t carry much weight when all is said and done. So? You start thumbing your nose at a Europa League game if your Man City, and that introduces a level of “who gives a crap” into your team. This time, it’s some match against RSC Anderlecht. Next time, it’s one against Wigan or WBA or Stoke. Then you lose league games because of lack of focus, and then you’re doomed.

      In my opinion, it would be better for a team like Man City to simply say we’re forfeiting every game in the Europa League than to send players with a “who cares?” attitude. Either you’re in or you’re not, and if the teams truly are “in,” then the contest means something and will be quality football. That is what a soccer fan should be looking for, especially since many of the teams in the Group Stage gave some entertaining moments in the play-in of the Champions League.

      • Raatzie

        August 27, 2010 at 6:12 pm

        I could give two craps about Man Chitty, other than not wanting them to win jack squat. Was easier when I could just dislike United and Chelsea. With every douchebag move Chitty makes (like naming their reserves the “elite squad”), Chelsea looks better and better in my book. Now that, with Mascherano’s exit, a return to the Champions League looks unlikely and a Torres exit (assuming he recovers his form) looks inevitable, I’d rather Chelsea land him than Chitty.

        I also could give two craps about the Carling Cup (the abolition of which I’m already on record as favoring) and international friendlies (as enticing and meaningful, IMHO, as NFL preseason).

        Were it up to me, domestic league, Champions League, and FA Cup would be it and all. Top 2 and Cup champion make Champions League. If cup Champion in top 2, 3 and 4 make Champions League automatically; if not, 3 and 4 play a two-legged playoff, with 3 getting the second match at home.

        In the alternative, send the kids to NIT Europe, like Arsene does in the Carling Cup.

        • Raatzie

          August 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm

          Clarification: If Cup champion 3 or 4, the other makes Champions League automatically as well.

    • Chris

      August 27, 2010 at 7:30 pm

      sounds like a dumb american ‘fan’ of an english club.

      theres are 53 associations in uefa. europa league is a big deal to the majority of them. much more enjoyable competition that the champions league where the only way you win it is with your billionaire owner.

      • Raatzie

        August 27, 2010 at 9:24 pm

        Hmmmm. How best to respond to such erudition?

        I think a three part response is best.

        Part I: Suck my nuts, you coont.

        Part II: Glad that Transylvania and East Dipstickistan think NIT Europe is a big deal. There’s no evidence of that, but I’ll take your word for it. Who gives a frak?

        Part III: Suck my nuts two times, you yeast-oozing coont.

        • Guitarearl

          August 27, 2010 at 10:03 pm

          Well Chris, if by ‘fan of an english club’ you mean ’12 yr old who just heard a few choice vulgarities on the middle school bus,’ then yes, I think that’s accurate.

          • Raatzie

            August 27, 2010 at 10:25 pm

            Hey. Backwoods retard. Shut it.

          • Dave C

            August 27, 2010 at 11:05 pm

            Whenever anyone says “I could give two craps about Man City”, when they mean “I could NOT give two craps about Man City”, then yeah, they’re pretty dumb.

            Also, what the hell is an NIT anyway?

          • Joe

            August 28, 2010 at 12:57 am

            @Dave C – NIT stands for “National Invitational Tournament”. It’s a college basketball tournament in America that invites teams who were not invited to the “Big Dance” (NCAA Tournament, aka March Madness). It’s largely seen as a consolation prize and doesn’t receive nearly the TV ratings or interest as the bigger tournament.

            That being said, this is my first year following international football and I’m planning to watch more Champions League than Europa. I just think that watching the higher quality teams will make me more interested in continuing to follow the sport. I suppose you could make a million arguments for why someone should or shouldn’t watch any given tournament, but at the end it’s about what’s enjoyable to watch and participate in.

            As an American, it doesn’t mean a lot to me how “mid-table” teams do in the Europa league. But I certainly agree that it would mean a lot to me if I lived in a city that had a team in the tournament…

  4. ScottG

    August 27, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Isn’t there also a benefit of doing well in the Europa League that your EUFA coefficient goes up? So in the future, you’ll get better seedings and if you do finally make it to the Champions League, your road might not be quite as impossible.

    • SpursInTheUSA

      August 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm

      Worked for Shaktar Donetsk. Maybe if we had beaten them a couple years ago in that fixture we could have been in Pot 2 instead of Pot 3.

  5. SanDimas1988

    August 27, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the winner of the Europa League doesn’t even get into the Champions League. If you go through all those extra matches, you should at least get a pass to the Champions League qualifying rounds.

    • Scott Alexander

      August 27, 2010 at 9:14 pm

      Why doesn’t UEFA change it so the winner of the Europa gets automatic qualification to next year’s Champion’s League? It would import so much interest and eventually money into Europa that simply isn’t going to happen otherwise

    • catch my drift?

      August 28, 2010 at 1:48 pm

      good point..makes u wonder why they bother with the super cup if the europa league winner isnt regarded as good enough for champions league

  6. Mike

    August 27, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Here, here! I’m with you that the Europa League/UEFA Cup still matters. I argue that the level of competition is better (not higher) in the Europa League for many reasons which you can read here:
    The Champions League is nothing but a money grab in the early rounds. It’s a massive who-cares until the month of March. The gap between the haves and have-nots is huge in the Champions League.
    The Europa League isn’t perfect, but it shouldn’t be dismissed either.
    Just my two cents.

  7. Fee

    August 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I was half expecting this article to be blank…
    Yes the Europa League matters, to clubs like Fulham, Villa and Everton. That’s their goal, they have no aspirations of lifting the Premier League trophy or Champions League football. Their clubs are no big enough for that so a run the Europa League is it for them, outside of a good domestic cup run.

    Liverpool are in the Europa League but you know full well they’d rather not be, they won the Champions League a few years back and while Hodgson was over the moon with Fulhams run he could do without it this year with Liverpool. Same as Manchester City don’t really want to be there and consider it a dress rehearsal for when they qualify for the Champions League.

    Don’t get me wrong the Europa League is great for the mid-table club to fight for, it makes things more interesting. But it doesn’t matter to me, I’m an Arsenal fan I would hate to be in the Europa League, it’s a soul sucking experience, we reached the UEFA cup final with nothing to show at the end of it.

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