As Chelsea’s players and fans celebrate in Amsterdam following their late, dramatic victory against Benfica, Bleacher Report looks ahead to next year’s final and predicts the teams who could battle it out for the 2013-14 Europa League.
While Tottenham Hotspur and AS Saint-Etienne both have an outside chance of qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition, the Champions League next season, fans of both sides would admit that a berth in the Europa League looks more likely.
The pair will doubtless be among the competition favourites, and I imagine that after this season’s campaign, both will harbour hopes of success next term.
Perhaps the Europa League will offer a convenient route to silverware.
Upon close inspection, Saint-Etienne and Tottenham Hotspur have several things in common. The pair are both historic clubs, but simultaneously, famous under-achievers.
They both had glorious periods in their history, but have, in recent times, struggled to rekindle the magic of generations past and have, to an extent, been labouring beneath the weight of history.
The French side made a name for themselves in the late 50s and early 60s, when a haul of honours came their way. Subsequent decades brought enormous glory, although ten league titles were only matched by one significant continental event—a place in the 1976 European Cup final, when the Stephanois were defeated by Bayern Munich.
Since the early 80s, the triumphs had all but dried up, and after floating between divisions, the faded days of yore felt a long, long time ago.
Spurs haven’t fallen from grace quite as harshly as Saint Etienne since their glory days, but the North Londoners can’t boast of such prior dominance on the domestic level.
On continental terms however, Tottenham have an enviable record.
Exciting teams in the early 70s and 80s were rewarded with UEFA Cups, the feted generation of the early 60s—English football’s first double-winning side—earned the Cup Winners’ Cup in ’63, while a recent foray into the Champions League quarterfinal brought back memories of their best European finish—a semifinal spot in 1962.
They, like Saint Etienne, have struggled to regain their lustre since those magical evenings, many of which are still spoken of fondly in and around White Hart Lane.
Beyond this, both clubs have been plagued by relentlessly successful neighbours in recent times. Saint Etienne’s nearby rivals Olympique Lyonnais were the dominant force in French football during the last decade, and wracked up seven league titles, as well as securing a spot in four Champions League quarterfinals and one semifinal.
Tottenham, meanwhile, have watched on as their fierce North London rivals initially enjoyed some glory days of their own under Arsene Wenger.
The Gunners had their own marvellous double-winning side, while the ‘Invincibles’ team of 2003-04 gave many a Spurs fan many a sleepless night.
The recent successes of Arsenal and Lyon have served only to underline Spurs and Saint Etienne’s fall from grace in recent decades…but signs suggest that things may be about to change.
ASSE are currently enjoying one of their best campaigns in years, and look set to best their seventh place finish of last season. They currently sit in sixth place in Ligue 1, but their participation in next season’s Europa League is already guaranteed after their recent French League Cup triumph over Rennes.
Brazilian frontman Brandao was the hero of the day, and gave the side their first major honour since 1981.
Tottenham have also improved from the dreadful years of the late 90s and the first half of last decade. Under the likes of Martin Jol and Harry Redknapp they managed to cement their place in England’s top five, and began to bring a sense of optimism and excitement back to White Hart Lane.
Redknapp secured Champions League qualification in 2010, and would have repeated the trick last season had Chelsea not stolen their place via their own European triumph.
Andre Villas-Boas has made some astute signings this time around, and his approach appears to have benefited many of the players in the squad—not least Gareth Bale, who has developed tremendously over the last 12 months.
AVB has insisted that the team approach the Europa League seriously this season, and they were only felled at the quarterfinal stage following a penalty shootout defeat to Basel.
While Champions League qualification is still a possibility for next year, the likelihood is that the Europa League might, once again, be in Spurs’ destiny. Another summer of new acquisitions, another year of growing into AVB’s methods and approach and, perhaps, another campaign with the terrific Bale, all might see Tottenham replicate the success of their fellow-Londoners Chelsea.
Saint Etienne will also be keen to make the most of their return to Europe. They are surely a club that has aspirations of one day breaking back among the teams at the very top of Ligue 1, and Europa League success would be an excellent way of adding credence to these desires.
I believe that a young team containing the likes of defensive prodigy Kurt Zouma, skipper and stalwart Loic Perrin and Ligue 1’s finest African talent Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, could be primed to bring honour and glory back to the famous old name of Saint Etienne.
Perhaps next season’s Europa League final in Torino could be the perfect occasion for Spurs and the Stephanois to once more grace a European final, and to announce to the continent their successful return to the majesty of glories past.
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