Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has revealed today that he is, in so many words, considering ‘ditching’ next season’s Europa League campaign in order to help stabilise his squad ahead of a potentially gruelling domestic season.
Liverpool still have to qualify for the European competition via a two-legged preliminary fixture with Macedonian side FK Rabotnicki, and after that may face a further 17 games on the road to the final in Ireland next May.
Hodgson has been warned against deploying the players that were on World Cup duty, given that many only returned to pre-season training last week and those which featured in the final (Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Dirk Kuyt) are yet to return from their extended hiatus at all.
The newly-appointed manager has said that he will consult the medical team at Liverpool in order to assess his squads fitness for purpose, but also hinted that the final decision may not be his to make;
“I worry a lot about not having enough players for next week.
[The qualifiers against Rabotnicki] will be two unbelievably difficult games at this stage of the season but it depends where we put the Europa League in the grand scheme of things.
The sports scientists tell me it would be wrong if I use the World Cup players this early, if we want to use them throughout the season. But if we don’t throw them in, then we don’t have the players with experience to play these games, so it is a cleft stick.
It is a balance that I cannot sort out on my own. It will be a decision for the club to take on. Where in the list of priorities does the Europa League come?”
A good question.
One would naturally assume that, for a club of Liverpool’s self-imposed stature, the Europa League would feature fairly lowly in their list of ‘things-to-do’ – a piffling triviality to be endured in repentance for last season’s underwhelming efforts.
The competition itself carries none of the highfalutin’ glamour or financial boon that it’s bigger brother, the UEFA Champions League, can afford to lavish on it’s competitors (there is €7 million in prize-money for winning the CL, compared to the €1 million avaialable for taking the EL title) and is, by-proxy, seen by many of the larger clubs as a non-event or a waste of time – especially when you consider that there are potentially greater rewards on offer for a half-decent domestic showing.
The games themselves can easily stray into the ‘mickey mouse’ genus when you consider the sheer amount of teams that UEFA allow (160 to start with, from countries such as Malta and Armenia) to enter the tournament in the name of Euro-friendly diversity, without a seconds thought for the quality of football on show in what is supposedly a ‘showpiece’ competition – everybody, regardless of how sh*te they are, must get their chance (which I believe is engraved in Latin over the door of the UEFA headquarters in Nyon).
When you consider the squad in question, you begin to side with Hodgson’s insecurity.
Whereas I cannot fault the shrewd moves that Liverpool have already made in the transfer market this summer (Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic and Danny Wilson), they are but three additions to a collective that is still pretty p*ss-weak numerically and in terms of depth in some fairly key areas.
With such a dearth of bodies available to him (and a reluctance to rush any further signings through in preparation), you’ve seriously got to question whether Hodgson’s heart is really in having to undertake the extra games that would be necessitated by playing in the Europa League, bearing in mind that it’s not the trophy that the club and it’s supporters feel it should be chasing – with most deeming an FA Cup victory to be a better, and altogether less taxing, measure of their prospective resurgence.
If Hodgson and the board truly have one eye on the greater good then maybe a fallow year with European competition on the back-burner (i.e. being prepared to drop out sooner rather than later) would allow Liverpool a bit more leverage in their quest to rebuild after a year or two of unrest, turmoil and a crucial loss of momentum.