Liverpool FC: 5 Reasons to Go After the Europa League
Brendan Rodgers has been handed two major assignments as manager of Liverpool Football Club:
- Improve attacking play
- Achieve better results in the league
The Fenway Sports Group (FSG) will likely evaluate their new chief almost exclusively based on these criteria.
The decision to release Rodgers' predecessor further underscores this point. Impressive displays across both domestic tournaments were not enough to save Kenny Dalglish's job. The club's new boss thus takes over knowing that similar failings could yield a similar verdict if form fails to improve.
Yet, in the relative frenzy over the chase for a prized top-four position—Liverpool does not necessarily need to give in entirely elsewhere. Unilateral focus on the EPL is not required.
The fact is that they are a big club. Certainly some of the older players, such as Jaime Carragher and Steven Gerrard, cannot play every match at this point in their careers. However, there is enough depth elsewhere to make an honest run for at least one other competition.
With this in mind, I think the Reds would be wise to chase the Europa League in 2012/13. Here are a few reasons why.
1. The Power of a Focusing Event
On April 4, 1982, at the behest of Margaret Thatcher, a British Task Force set sail from France. Their destination would be the Falklands—a small island off the coast of Argentina.
After years of British dependence, the Argentines had apparently decided they wanted the island back. Thatcher had different plans.
The 74-day conflict that ensued is a classic example of what is known in the world of foreign affairs as a "focusing event."
In strict geographic terms, the Falklands meant little to the British. Yet, their subsequent victory meant a great deal geopolitically.
The formerly much-maligned Prime Minister's numbers spiked. She rode a subsequent patriotic tidal wave to victory at the polls.
If Brendan Rodgers is an astute tactician, he will be aware that the idea of a focusing event is not isolated to affairs of state.
Just as the Falklands diverted British attention from a faltering economy—so too can success in the Europa League paper over failings in the league.
Footballing revolutions like the one being undertaken on Merseyside do not happen overnight. Thus, both patience and time are precious commodities at Anfield.
The Europa League offers a bounty of both.
2. An Invigorated Competition
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The view that the Europa League is a second-class competition grows more outdated with each passing year.
Some of football's most exciting clubs will take part this season. The list may surprise you.
Here is a sample of some of the tournament's bigger participating clubs:
Next, here is a second list of some of the bigger names involved:
Rafael Van der Vaart, Gareth Bale, Marek Hamsik, Edinson Cavani, Andre Schurrle, Lars Bender, Falcao, Fernando Llorente, Maicon, Iker Muniain, Isco, Cristian Maggio
Add Liverpool to that list, and things do not look so "second rate" anymore. The Champions League will always cast a shadow over the Europa. But that does not mean that this trophy is anything to turn your nose at.
3. An Opportunity to Sell the Brand
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At present, Liverpool suffers from a weakened international brand.
Their rich history affords them a certain degree of weight. Yet the fact remains that clubs such as Manchester United—who have achieved better results of late—are the bigger names right now.
Of course, the best players in the world want to play for the best teams. Thus, Liverpool often faces an uphill battle in securing top talent internationally. In addition, they inevitably pay over the odds as well.
For example, last year the club brought in Stewart Downing only after successive failures in going after Ashley Young and Juan Mata. After both signed for Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, the franchise went with Aston Villa's other winger. Further, most would agree that the fee paid was a bit over market.
To avoid additional situations of this sort in the future, Liverpool has to repair its brand.
The Europa League is an excellent opportunity to do so. It gives England's most storied franchise the chance to bring its brand to the doorstep of fans all over the European continent.
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Any conversation involving Liverpool and European play inevitably leads to a discussion of their last Champions League victory. That special night in Istanbul in time has come to cast a long shadow.
It is at once a reminder of both past success and present failings. And unfortunately, even a flawless Europa League campaign will never be good enough for a club who succeeded on that high a level less than a decade ago.
That said, the competition still carries a certain prestige. Prestige equates to pride, which inevitably leads to self-confidence.
Surely anyone watching over the last few years can recognize the pervasive lack of the latter condition. Every bit counts.
Confidence is often the difference between a successful strike and an endless barrage of hit crossbars.
5. Lessons in the 4-3-3
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Finally, there is the simple fact that the Europa League offers an essential learning opportunity.
The new 4-3-3 is a distinctly "European" formation.
Those looking for great examples to follow should watch footage from Napoli and Barcelona last season.
As Liverpool continues its transformation, there is an intrinsic value to traveling the continent and seeing tiki-taka on display elsewhere.
Seeing its effectiveness will be instructive for this class of Reds. When the scoreline grew dire against West Brom in the season opener, there was a noticeable revision to the long-ball tactics of years past. It may help Rodgers force the issue if some of the continent's best make the point for him.
For continued coverage of Liverpool F.C., follow Tony at SWOL.com or theliverpoolword.com, or on Twitter @tonylucadamo.