With 12 groups in total, just comprehending the size of the Europa League requires you to have paid close attention during those Sesame Street episodes as a youth. L is for Ludicrous.
As someone who likes to think of himself as fairly knowledgeable on football in general I have to admit I have paid little to no attention to Europe’s second competition this season and it all just seems a little over complicated for me.
With one eye on Forest’s attempts to climb the Championship table and the other on the more traditional fair of top flight football and Champions League action, games such as Dnipro V Pandurii, and Kuban Krasnodar V St. Gallen have unfortunately slipped me by.
The suits at Uefa, led by Mousier Plattini, have cobbled together the competition out of the ashes of the Cup Winners cup and the Uefa cup format and created a monster.
With big teams fielding weakened sides and blaming their involvement for lapses in league form, and other teams struggling to see the economic value of flying half way across the world to battle out for a 0-0 draw to secure third place in the group, the tournament continues to pail into insignificance. Ever increasingly in the shadows of its much more successful and better looking sibling, the Champions League, teams such as Swansea are seeing the harsh reality of having to play on a Thursday night somewhere in the midst of Europe affecting their league form so far this season.
Another issue. The teams that fail in the Champions league should not be allowed to enter the next stage of the Europa league. Like poor quality hand me down’s these teams shouldn’t be automatically sent to the Europa League for a second chance in the sun. All this does is clog up an already congested system. Plus many of those teams don’t really want to be in the Europa League anyway.
Take Chelsea for instance. Even as they were on their way to winning the competition a couple of seasons ago, they didn’t want to be there. There fans didn’t want to be there. Abramovich didn’t want to be there. And their players certainly didn’t want to be there. With Chelsea about to take part in the showpiece final against Benfica, Jon Obi Mikel came out and lamented the fact he had to “play on Thursday nights in front of Channel 5 cameras”. And bless his little heart, he didn’t know the Europa League song and missed the “prime time” of Champions League football.
While having an AC Milan or Chelsea in the draw might look good on paper, in reality these teams only serve to dilute the respectability of the competition and with 48 teams already making up the group stages it is counter-productive to then add a further 8 at a later stage.
Undoubtedly having a second European competition is key in order to prevent the chasm between Europe’s elite clubs and the rest growing even further but I can’t help but feel a simpler version which keeps itself to itself without accepting cast off’s and winners of fair play tables would be more rewarding; both for the teams taking part and for those of us seeking a competitive enjoyable tournament.
Because at the minute all the Europa League seems good for is giving Jermaine Defoe a run out.