Often derided as the uglier and less significant sibling to the Champions League, the Europa League (formally of ‘UEFA Cup’ fame) is a long, gruelling and often financially unfulfilling expedition: is it worth all the bother?
Eventual Europa League finalists Fulham began their campaign right back in July and subsequently played 19 games in reaching the final. It’s testament to Roy Hodgson and his side that, along this arduous path, Fulham’s league form did not suffer extensively, finishing just in the bottom half of the table.
Given the amount of games, travelling, creeping fatigue and injury risk it is unsurprising that clubs competing in the Europa League would be adversely affected in league standing. I recall that, having won 1-0 away at AEK Athens back in December, Everton picked-up three more injuries to an already depleted squad; increasingly finding themselves looking over their shoulder at the wrong end of the table. (This was obviously exacerbated by previous injury problems and the league standing always felt somewhat artificial, with Everton swiftly bouncing back, but the point is clear and the issues inextricable).
Now you may say this is the same for Champions League clubs, however herein lies the problem. Clubs competing in the Champions League are usually the ones equipped with the necessary tools, resources and squad depth to cope, having built-up and sustained the necessary financial and competitive clout. For the teams in the Europa League, the strains are far more likely to take their toll rendering a European run less feasible.
There are, of course, also the vast financial incentives of the Champion’s League, ensuring it’s always a competition worth competing in. The Europa League on the other hand is not so lucrative.
Certainly, a look at the UEFA Direct magazine, regarding the distribution of revenue to clubs in both competitions last year is interesting (Click Here)
I wont bore you with too many dull old figures, there is a useful breakdown of them on the link above if you do so desire, but here a are a couple: last year Champions League clubs received a participation premium of 3 million Euro and a further €2.4 million for the completion of group games, with an overall total distributed for clubs in the champions league of €600 million. In comparison, clubs received €215,000 for getting into last years UEFA Cup group stages, with an overall total distributed for clubs in the UEFA Cup of under €40 million.
This is perhaps reasonable given the CL being Europe’s elite competition and TV revenue etcetera etcetera, but the financial (dis)incentives for such a labour intensive competition such as the Europa League possibly need reviewing to make it worth all the bother.
Having fought your way through the opening stages of the competition, the Champions League dropouts then come crashing in – eventually winning the competition this year – making it all the more laborious.
In relation to this, awarding the Europa League winners automatic qualification to the Champions League would make it more desirable, but suggests – like many trophies seem to be now – it is simply a means to an ends and a gateway to something ‘better’, rather then winning for winnings sake, worthwhile on its own merits.
So, given all this, is it worthwhile? In terms of the practicalities it seems not. However, for a fan of team competing – hosting European football on evenings bristling with anticipation – it is very much worthwhile and something to strive for. Football is about competing and having a common cause, something to get excited about in this grey slab of a world. So forget about calf injuries, club finances, problems at home, council tax, getting fat, ever increasing melancholy, instead let go and enjoy battling it out on the European stage against some of Europe’s best – because the competition is certainly impressive, just look at Fulham’s rocky road to the final – in a competition eclectic and exciting. If you get you make it through the marathon you will have something well worth shouting about.
What do you think: Tin-pot trophy not worth fighting for or fun-filled venture amongst a muscular cast?
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