Since its adaption from the UEFA Cup, Europe’s second tier of club competition has been ostracized by indignant clubs that believe themselves to be too big to compete therein. Over the years of degradation, it has become almost an embarrassment to be taking part in this tournament defined in very nature as inferior. Many clubs see it as only affirmation that, at this point, they are just not quite good enough for the elite level, a certifiable badge of dishonour. So, as its new campaign kicks into gear, will any of the English clubs competing take the Europa League seriously? It is highly debatable.
The British charge is lead by the triumvirate of Tottenham, Newcastle and Liverpool this time round; this immediately posing a problem as all three clubs are of the opinion that domestic league issues are of more importance than Europe. Each club is fighting for something in the league: Spurs eager to once again break through into the top four echelon, Newcastle keen to continue the steady progress felt since the arrival of Alan Pardew and Liverpool trying, under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers, to transition from one era to the next. All of these needs will, as a matter of tradition, override the Europa League competition.
But is this correct? Last year, the competition was dominated by Spanish clubs that bucked the trend of fielding considerably-weakened teams to progress into its latter stages. Valencia, Athletic Bilbao, and eventual winners Atletico Madrid featured prominently in the competition right up until the very end, a place in the limelight secured via usage of full-strength teams throughout. So, why do English teams never appear to take this competition so seriously, whereas other nations do?
A lot again boils down to the current importance of the domestic game. Bluntly, the money lies in the league; the higher a club can finish, the more derivative income they are able to revel in. Thus, the league will in perpetuity be the most forthright target of any manager. Accordingly, focus, in squad selection and care, must be suitably geared towards that inclination. That, invariably, means competing in the Europa League with youngsters and fringe players. This, however, can be, and routinely is, construed as an inherent arrogance and elitism. In short, by overhauling squads, clubs frequently belittle the competition.
But nonetheless, this remains a trophy available to be won. Each spring, this competition fires into life, demonstrating a flare for drama and excitement. It is then that fans wish that their club were participating, experiencing, tasting the fruits of European success. It is a high-calibre cup. It is a top-level tournament. It is there to be won.
Whether the Europa League figures highly in the planning and idealism of those in charge remains to be seen. Will Andre Villas-Boas determine to make an assault on Europe? Will Alan Pardew decide to take a tilt at the Amsterdam final? Will Brendan Rodgers care? The Europa League may, at this early stage, feel more like a chore than a pleasure but, come February, it can be assured that it will have us all enthralled. What remains by then of the English contingent is solely at the whim of those in charge.
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