The Europa League: UEFA’s greatly undervalued gem

As Gareth Bale scored two sensational free kicks raising every Spurs fan to their feet in a packed White Hart Lane, all was right in the world in their part of North London. Who could blame them as they defeated a club who were in the Champions League semi-final in 2010 and have won seven French league titles in the last ten years.

The victory left Spurs with an advantage, albeit small, and a realistic chance of progressing into the last 16 stage. For a club which felt devastated for not qualifying for the Champions League, this victory is not to be undermined or taken lightly. The money that this European adventure will generate for the club is imperative and could be the difference between Spurs signing that world class attacker many feel is the only component they lack while trying to compete at the highest level.

The Europa League matchball with the historic UEFA trophy.

While there is nothing wrong in showing ambition to compete at a higher level, the Europa League allowed Spurs to express their superiority over one of the constant European powerhouses in recent history.

Andre Villas Boas seems to be somewhat of a rarity as he is repaying that respect to the competition by practically fielding as strong a team as possible throughout with minimum exceptions reaping the rewards for his philosophy. The atmosphere at White Hart Lane was electric and not only because of Bale’s brilliance but because Tottenham fans got to witness their team defeat a very respectable team – even if Lyon is in a transitional period.

The Europa League provided these fans with this passion, and I would suspect you would have had a hard job finding someone in Tottenham who did not believe in the importance of the competition on Thursday night. It offers more excitement for fans to see their team mixing it with clubs within Europe and helps raise their profile across the world.

There has been, and will continue to be, a stigma surrounding the Europa League as inferior to the Champions League but the results of the Super Cup, a match between the winners of both competitions, shows that the gulf in quality between the cups are not as drastic as thought. Take this year for instance as Atletico Madrid destroyed Champions League winners Chelsea 4 – 1. Since the year 2000 there have been 7 winners of the Super Cup who were Europa League champions and only 6 teams victorious who had won the Champions League.

In addition to this, the competition allows younger players who are good enough to be in the first team to test themselves at European level. The best example of this lies again with Tottenham in the form of Kyle Walker. The PFA young player of the year in 2012 has benefited immensely from not being thrown into the deep end of the Champions League and instead is learning his trade at a less significant but equally competitive level. A few bad performances in the Champions League could have left Walker exposed and hindered his development while losing confidence in his ability which is clear for all to see with great national expectations awaiting the 22 year old.

Despite this there is a clear inferiority complex surrounding the Europa League with many teams opting not to play full strength teams throughout due to domestic commitments which are considered more important. The competition seems to have lost some of its prestige and this could be a result of the change in name as it used to be known as the UEFA Cup up until 2008. The idea behind the initiative was to boost the competitions appeal but it has not had the desired effect with reports of poor attendance and weak squad selections.

Rather than the esteemed legacy the UEFA Cup had embodied, the Europa League has been viewed as a glorified acceptance of being a second-fiddle European competition. UEFA have no one to blame for this but themselves.

A proud European tradition: The Tottenham Hotspur team of ’72 celebrates winning the UEFA Cup

Another problem with the structure of the Europa League is the inclusion of Champions League teams who finish third, failing to qualify from the group stage. This sends out a clear message that if a club is not good enough for the Champions League, they are good enough for the Europa League.

This resonates with the fans and thus the competition is not taken seriously as fans and clubs alike are not fully encouraged to do so.

The Europa League becomes diluted and there is no real winner in this instance. Teams who fail in the Champions League see their inclusion as a step-down and have little interest in the Europa League after experiencing the biggest competition in European football. While teams who have been fighting through the rigorous demands of the Europa League feel undermined as all their hard work to go to waste against a team who have not invested as much time and effort in the competition as they have.

Another issue creating this problem is the money which the winners of either competition get which again is due to UEFA. The winners of the Champions League are awarded £9.05m, while the Europa League winners receive roughly £3m. In any walk of life the more money something is worth the more important and prestigious it is and football is no different. This is another clear message from UEFA that the Europa League is an inferior competition and by this coming from the governing body there is little hope for any resurrection of the competition.


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