No one likes the Europa League.
We may as well get that out of the way now.
Even the clubs involved don’t like it; not the ones from England, anyway. For many, it’s the League Cup with air miles. It’s a chance to rest the first team and give run-outs to the names their fans know so well but whose faces they couldn’t pick out in a crowd.
Every club has them, those youngsters who reserve team enthusiasts crow about before they’ve even learnt to drive.
Unfortunately for many, the pinnacle of their career is playing away against a team with more vowels in their name than consonants.
For many clubs, the Europa League is something to endure. They qualify, and almost instantly they wish they hadn’t.
And here’s why.
There’s a Group L!
What kind of cup competition has a Group L? That’s almost halfway through the alphabet.
And that’s after three qualifying rounds and a play-off.
So basically there are far too many teams playing in a tournament that the best ones don’t care about.
I know how elitist that sounds. And I know that for those teams who go on to contest the later rounds, those who almost win it and those who do, the Europa League means a great deal.
But it’s still rubbish.
So I had a plan to rejuvenate it. Well, not rejuvenate it exactly, more scrap it, putting all the good teams in the Champions League and leaving the others to play for something important back home. It’s not an original plan. But it’s the most obvious.
But to do that, I had to look at everyone in this year’s competition and filter the good from the bad; which isn’t easy when your only reference point is to look for the names you recognise.
So aside from saying Inter Milan probably shouldn’t be there, I won’t name names. But I will say that given the ease with which some teams qualify from their Champions League group, surely it would make more sense just to have one Super League (we haven’t heard that for a while) and drop the “Champions” tag altogether.
It has after all been a long time since only the champions of their country played in Europe’s most prestigious cup competition. And when the likes of Lyon, Inter and Rubin Kazan miss out while lesser teams with no chance of qualifying, or entertaining, get in, it’s time for a rethink.
What damages the Europa League’s credibility the most is when teams who have failed – those third-placed teams in the Champions League groups – “drop down” into it. It’s as if UEFA are punishing them twice. And what does that say to the teams in it from the beginning?
It says this is a competition for losers, with all or all-but-one of those Champions League drop-outs ultimately losing twice.
I’m all for underdogs; but only when the competition is a serious one. The FA Cup will always have fairy tales, and so will World Cups and European Championships.
But there is only one World Cup. Not one for the best teams and one for the average. There is only one European Championship and if you don’t qualify, tough!
So why not just one European Cup?
Of course it is all down to money. Two competitions and a seemingly infinite number of teams means considerably more revenue than a single tournament.
But the Europa League just doesn’t work.
If I was a second-choice ‘keeper I would probably love it. But I’m a fan, and for all but the winner it just seems like a waste of time.