Examining Tottenham Hotspur's Routes to Champions League Qualification Next Year

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Examining Tottenham Hotspur's Routes to Champions League Qualification Next Year
Associated Press
Tottenham went out of the Europa League in the last 16 to Benfica. They will need to better that if they want to win it and earn Champions League qualification this season.

Tottenham Hotspur have more than one way of qualifying for the Champions League next season.

Finishing in the Premier League's top four is the traditional route. As of this upcoming campaign, winning the Europa League will also gain entry.

Antonio Calanni/Associated Press
As well as the silverware itself, winning the Europa League will mean Champions League qualification from now on.

The new reward for winning UEFA's second-tier competition was announced in May 2013. As put by BBC Sport: "The move is designed to boost interest in Europe's secondary club tournament."

Tottenham's relationship with the Europa League is a storied and—in accordance with its downgrading in recent times—divisive one.

Twice winners of the tournament under its former guise of the UEFA Cup, those successes in 1972 and 1984 form a major part of the club's history. The latter's 30th anniversary was celebrated last month:

Spurs' return to European football in 2006-07 was greeted warmly after only once qualifying in the previous 14 years. Including that season, the north Londoners have played in the UEFA Cup/Europa League in six of nine years—testament to their renewed competitiveness at the upper end of the English top flight.

Sang Tan/Associated Press
Mauricio Pochettino will be the latest man to try and bring Champions League football to Tottenham.

One of three occasions they did not play in it was in 2010-11, when they were in the Champions League. Spurs had harboured ambitions of playing in it prior to then. That high proved so addictive, though, the attempt to sample it again has influenced just about every aspect of the club's subsequent decision making. As a result, the Europa League's value has diminished.

Qualifying for the Champions League will be a target again this season. After Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood were deemed incapable of getting there by Tottenham's hierarchy, Mauricio Pochettino is the latest to be handed the task.

Upon the Argentinian's appointment late last month, there were contradictory reports over whether his job was dependent on reaching the UCL. The Mirror's John Cross reported "clauses in Pochettino’s deal in case he does not make it into Europe’s elite." The Sun's Paul Jiggins (subscription required), however, said the demands on the new boss were not so severe.

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Given Spurs want to finish as high up the table as possible, the preferred route back to Europe's premier competition would be via the top four.

Last season's sixth-place finish showed how doing achieving that aim—let alone competing for a title—is becoming increasingly difficult.

Pochettino will hope to make the most of what is still a squad brimming with talented options. Yet, an improved overall performance might not be enough with champions Manchester City leading a group of seven clubs well capable of finishing fourth or better.

Aiming high in the league while challenging in Europe will not be easy either, of course. Tottenham's failure to get past the quarter-final stage in the last decade highlights the competition's difficulty. That said, Spurs can hopefully draw inspiration from Sevilla's win in the 2013-14 UEL edition.

Unai Emery's side went the whole way from qualifying. An impressive achievement given the presence in the knockout stage of more fancied outfits—such as Juventus, Napoli, Porto and final opponents Benfica—who had exited the Champions League at the group stage.

Andrew Medichini/Associated Press
Spurs can look to Sevilla as proof winning the Europa League is achievable.

Tottenham may have extra incentive in taking on the Europa League this season, but will it be a point of conflict with their new manager?

In February, via Sky Sports, Pochettino described the Europa League as "not an attractive competition."

The Daily Telegraph's Matt Law has since reported the club will "demand" he take it seriously. Although Pochettino's own preference for the Champions League is clear, it is also apparent his dislike for the Europa League was more in relation to his situation at Southampton:

I think it is a competition that kills you in the sense that there are a lot of mid-table teams that put a lot of effort into the Europa League and then are not able to do anything in the league, they are not able to compensate for that bad run of form in the league so it brings them down.

Comments he made in a press conference in March, via the Press Association video above, made clear he would be more welcoming of it in the situation he is going to find at Spurs:

It is clear that when you play in the Europa League you need a bigger team. You also need a more competitive team to do well in that competition. If you don't have those things you are not going to compete well in that competition.

Even with likely changes to the squad, Pochettino will not be short of the numbers needed to compete on more than one front next season.

The newly installed Argentine will be hoping his team have enough to battle for a Champions League place but, with the Capital One Cup and FA Cup on the docket as well, it remains to be seen if Tottenham's first team will have the talent levels required to compete on both domestic and continental fronts.

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