Tottenham Players Should Begin to Take Europa League as Seriously as Villas-Boas

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2012

Jermain Defoe watches his chipped effort go in the Panathinaikos net, sealing Tottenham's progress in the Europa League.
Jermain Defoe watches his chipped effort go in the Panathinaikos net, sealing Tottenham's progress in the Europa League.Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The seriousness with which Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas has taken the Europa League can be measured somewhat by the strength of the teams he fielded for each of their six Group J games.

Going by the level of performance put in by the players in most of those games, they did not approach it quite as resolutely as their boss.

This assessment is a little harsh considering they did enough for Tottenham to qualify after all.

Thursday's 3-1 win over Panathinaikos saw Spurs waver in the second half, but overall they performed professionally against a team who set out to frustrate them, and cannot be accused of not taking their chances.

Indeed, there were positives to be found besides the sealing of qualification, another bright performance from Clint Dempsey and Jermain Defoe scoring his 13th goal of the season among them.

However, a lackluster 25-minute spell in the second half was more in keeping with their form in the competition so far this season.

Particularly in their away trips, Spurs were lacking any real verve or tangible sense of motivation, playing as if their opponents (excluding a good Lazio side) were capable of being beaten by less than their best efforts.

The players might vehemently disagree with this assessment.

In fairness, the challenges that come with a visit to some of Europe's further-flung destinations, and their ability to impinge on performances, should not be underestimated.

But it would seem the majority of squad, like so many others in football, have too fallen foul of the diminished value and excitement of the Europa League.

It is understandable in some respects.

A lot of these players were part of the Tottenham team that enjoyed such a memorable run in the Champions League two seasons ago.

When that competition still forms such a significant part of their ambitions it is not altogether surprising they view UEFA's secondary competition with less enthusiasm.

The trick now—and Villas-Boas can only do so much here—is finding a genuine desire to want to progress.

For all the Europa League's faults, that is something Tottenham should want to do.

It was not that long ago, in their much-longed-for return to European football in the 2006/07 season, they embarked on a memorable UEFA Cup run that ended in a disappointing, but ultimately proud quarter-final loss to Sevilla (with a couple of other decent runs following since then).

Come the round of 32 in February they will likely be desperate for a change of scenery too after the slog of the English winter.

The names that remain in the tournament (that Spurs can face in the next round) may not compare with those in the Champions League.

However, they are strong enough potential opponents that a repeat of the excitement which revolved around Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao's run to the final last season could well be repeated.

Last year's edition was one of the strongest in recent memory (in the knockout stages at least), which was partly down to the passion and conviction the two Spanish clubs showed as they vanquished clubs such as Manchester United, Schalke and Valencia along the way.

Spurs have the necessary talent and managerial expertise in the competition to fashion a similar run themselves.

There is the worry that advancement in the Europa League could leave them tired on the domestic front, but with so many of their (likely) competitors for top-four placings dealing with the same predicament too, surely the chance to win some silverware must outweigh this concern.

Villas-Boas will be keen to win a trophy in his first season, and most Spurs supporters would relish the chance to enjoy a few more of those famous Glory Glory nights.

Ultimately, though, how well Tottenham do is up for the players to decide.