As of next season, the European competition fought for by the elite of the continent’s mid-table teams will no longer be known as the Uefa Cup. Instead the competition will be rebranded as the Uefa Europa League. Why? Who knows. The old saying goes that you cannot polish a turd, so surely the same applies to a crap piece of silverware.
The name change was first bandied around in July and has today been officially approved by the UEFA Executive Committee at their meeting in Bordeaux. Only the stupid and/or naive will consider the Europa League any more prestigious than the Uefa Cup. The competitors will still be Europe’s second string – anyone who is anyone will be in the Champions League proper.
The official line is that rebranding the tournament along similar lines as the Champions League will make it more popular. Wrong – the Uefa Cup already has a group stage and a similar format to the Champions League. Giving the tournament a name that sounds like a hotel is not going to change anything. The old Conference was of course rebranded as the Blue Square Premier League. Has any of that top-flight prestige rubbed off? I’m not sure; you will have to ask fans of Lewis or Northwich Victoria.
The biggest change which might have an impact on clubs is that television deals will be dealt out centrally by Uefa (I’m presuming they have not rebranded as the Europa League Organising Team). Currently clubs negotiate their own deals up to the semi-final stage and hence every now and again your team’s away tie in Transylvania is not on the box at all.
The competition’s group stage will also be expanded to 48 teams, but so what? The prestige will remain with the Champions League where the genuinely elite clubs battle it out. Letting two Estonian teams instead of one sneak into the group stage is not going to make the Uefa Cup a reformed character.
Uefa president Michel Platini said: “I am convinced the new format will give the UEFA Europa League a successful new impetus.” I’m not so confident. It sounds like money for old Europa.