Europa League? I love it!

DAVE PAGE says the much-ma­ligned com­pe­ti­tion de­serves a break…

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - OPINION -

THURS­DAY nights, Chan­nel 5! as the jibe used to go, un­til the chang­ing of broad­cast rights ren­dered the song re­dun­dant. The chant has even got its own Wikipedia page, which seems rather… odd.

Any­way, the point I was try­ing to make is that the Europa League, and the UEFA Cup be­fore that, is on the whole not taken very se­ri­ously in this coun­try, and for some fans mer­its mock­ery.

I’ve tried many times to un­der­stand and sym­pa­thise with such a men­tal­ity, but I hon­estly just can’t. It’s a Euro­pean tro­phy for Christ’s sake, how of­ten does win­ning one of those come around?

When Manch­ester United were labour­ing through an­other round of the com­pe­ti­tion on their way to win­ning it last sea­son, I heard some of their fans de­clare that this was a must-win purely for the pur­pose of get­ting back to the Cham­pi­ons League.

Pre­sum­ably such peo­ple are less en­thused at the prospect of their team win­ning a piece of sil­ver­ware than get­ting to com­pete in a tour­na­ment next sea­son which, at this time, they stand lit­tle chance of go­ing far in.

Three sea­sons ago, UEFA in­tro­duced a much sought af­ter Cham­pi­ons League place for the win­ners, in or­der to give teams a greater in­cen­tive to try.

But, for me, this just de­val­ued the Europa League it­self even fur­ther. This de­ci­sion merely con­firmed it as a se­condary level tour­na­ment that teams should be look­ing to ‘get out of’, which is not the right way of go­ing about cre­at­ing in­ter­est.

What’s more, it de­prives teams (un­less they re-en­ter via fin­ish­ing third in their Cham­pi­ons League group) of the op­por­tu­nity to de­fend their ti­tle.

I think many would have liked to have seen if Sevilla, the true hall­mark of ex­cel­lence in this tour­na­ment, could make it four ti­tles on the bounce and cre­ate history.

In­stead, they ex­ited UEFA’s elite com­pe­ti­tion at the round of 16 stage, some­thing sure to be long for­got­ten in just a few years time (though maybe not by Le­ices­ter City fans).

On the con­ti­nent, the Europa League com­mands more re­spect than it does on these shores. For many clubs over the years, it has pro­vided bril­liant Euro­pean cam­paigns that would be oth­er­wise im­pos­si­ble in the vir­tu­ally closed shop of the Cham­pi­ons League, where the ex­clu­sive group of big guns reign supreme sea­son af­ter sea­son.

Sure, the group stages are drawn out and a bit bor­ing; watch­ing the English rep­re­sen­ta­tives play on dire pitches at near-empty sta­di­ums, in the likes of Be­larus and Moldova, is no more fun that it sounds.

But once you reach the knock­out stages you can wit­ness gen­uinely ex­cit­ing teams and plenty of young tal­ent.

Just look at the way Ajax’s kids took last sea­son’s edi­tion by storm and re­vived their glo­ri­ous history in con­ti­nen­tal com­pe­ti­tions by reach­ing the fi­nal. And need I say it once more? It rep­re­sents a GEN­UINE chance of win­ning a Euro­pean tro­phy.You know those things, tro­phies? The things that foot­ball used to be all about once upon a time. The glory, the drama, the un­for­get­table emo­tion. But nah, some Red Devils fans see the real vic­tory in greater mar­ketabil­ity, so they can sign an­other ex­pen­sive player who can pro­vide some edgy new al­ter­na­tive to the ‘dab’. While it may sound like it, this isn’t specif­i­cally a dig at Manch­ester United sup­port­ers. I’m sure I’d be hear­ing sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments if other es­tab­lished Premier League pow­er­houses were in the same po­si­tion. It’s not even re­ally a dig at Paul Pogba, I think he’ll come good with time, but he doesn’t help him­self either. Any­way, I di­gress. Tak­ing the view back home again, just ask Mid­dles­brough and Ful­ham fans for their best mo­ments fol­low­ing their club, and they are sure to men­tion var­i­ous points on their way to the fi­nal, and prob­a­bly even that cli­mac­tic day it­self, even though both ended in de­feat. The re­sponse may well be sim­i­lar from fol­low­ers of Bolton and Swansea, too.Yet it seems that even teams of this ilk no longer feel com­pelled to try and have a run, in­stead pri­ori­tis­ing the bread and but­ter of Premier League mid-table anonymity. At the end of the day, the three sides from this coun­try to have made the fi­nal in the last four years are Chelsea, Liver­pool and Manch­ester United – all teams who prob­a­bly feel that they ought to be ‘above’ the Europa League. Maybe English foot­ball is just not as good as it thinks it is, although that’s a de­bate that would re­quire an­other ar­ti­cle en­tirely. As I sit here now, it’s pos­si­bly a bit strange that I’ve put up such a pas­sion­ate de­fence of a con­test that my team, Brighton, have never played in. But one day they might, just might, and if it does hap­pen, I will be sim­ply ec­static. @page_­dave

Fi­nal joy: Man Utd’s Paul Pogba

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