EPL: Is the Europa League an Unwanted Distraction for England's Top Teams?
With the Premier League drawing to it's conclusion, one of the bigger questions yet to be answered is who will be playing European football next season?
With Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal seemingly booking their places in the Champions League already and the last slot looking likely to go to Manchester City, this article looks at whether or not the two teams competing for Europa League league position, Tottenham and Liverpool, consider the competition a worthy objective.
At current, Spurs are hot favourites to claim that slot, being three points clear of Liverpool and having played a game less.
However, these odds are lessened when teamed with the fact that Spurs still have to navigate trips to Chelsea and position competitors Liverpool.
Tottenham have played in this season's Champions League and have revelled in it until their eventual demise at the hands of Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Away defeats to Switzerland's Young Boys and Italy's Inter Milan were countered with emphatic home victories that saw them through to the quarterfinal stage, progressing further than fierce North London rivals Arsenal in the process.
Therefore, it's safe to assume that the White Hart Lane faithful thoroughly enjoyed their time on Europe's grandest stage.
Europa League (or UEFA Cup in it's previous incarnation) has revealed a lot less excitement amongst the fans, especially with Spurs failing to get to the quarterfinal stage in three of their last four attempts.
Liverpool are used to playing for the grandest European honours, having qualified for the Champions League eight times since 2001, which saw their last victory in Europe's second tier competition.
England's interest in the Europa League, however, seems to be minimal. Both Manchester City and Liverpool played out flat exits that saw only one goal scored by either English team in 360 minutes of football, and consequently both were eliminated from the last 16.
Barring Fulham's excellent campaign which saw them to the final, no English team has really tried in the Europa League since Liverpool in 2001.
Many see it as a similar standard of competition to the League Cup, where second string teams should be played to blood players in.
This is not the stance taken across the continent though. Spanish teams place significance on the trophy, as is demonstrated by five successes since 2004.
Elsewhere, it is seen as a viable European competition where Champions League success is unlikely—just look at Shakhtar Donetsk's success in 2009 and how that was celebrated.
English teams' games for the Europa League are broadcast on second string channels. It's no surprise fans attach little meaning to them when they don't get the same publicity as Champions League games.
Prize money is also a concern. How can winning the Europa League be worth 10 times less than simply qualifying for the larger competition? It beggars belief.
So, yes, it's understandable why the larger English clubs play the competition down. They will get little, if any, prestige from participating and the money isn't there to make it worthwhile.
The smaller clubs will revel in it, as it provides something the fans wouldn't see with the potential for big European names at their ground, whilst also earning the club a larger than average gate.
This is demonstrated by Fulham's amazing run in last season's competition, which saw them to the final, and they became the country's darling.
This wouldn't happen with Liverpool or Spurs as they're expected to win by most of the country. It simply isn't taken seriously over here.
There is one very important reason why it should be though, and that rests with UEFA's coefficient system. Simply put, the better your country's clubs do in either European competition, the more places your country's clubs get.
Italian clubs have recently discovered that treating the Europa League with disdain can be detrimental. They've lost a Champion League place for next season, with Germany now entering four teams, opposed to three.
So should English clubs treat this tournament with respect? Well, yes. It's a chance to involve fans in a competition, one which an English team hasn't one since 2001. We should be more pro-active in it.
However, something should also be done by UEFA. Increase the prize money. Find out a way to get bigger clubs involved. Hell, give the the finalists Champions League slots. Something needs to be done to increase the reputation of the tournament.
Otherwise it will remain a competition that sees players rested in order for a team to push for a Champions League league place and forever in the backs of fans' minds.
EDIT: An interesting point that has been raised in the comments below is to re-structure the competition to make it more knock-out orientated. Is this a viable option to garner interest?
Also, the the thought occurred to me over that fact that every season, Champions League teams who have been knocked out drop down and are offered a second chance in Europe? Is this fair?
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