UEFA Discusses Plans for Europa League Dropouts to Enter Third Cup Competition

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2015

The Europa League trophy is displayed, during the Europa League draw ceremony of the first round of the 2015/2016 Europa League, at the Grimaldi Forum, in Monaco, Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Claude Paris/Associated Press

UEFA officials have held talks over the possible creation of a third European club tournament, one that would welcome dropouts from the first two qualifying rounds of the Europa League.

The idea is a simple one: Those clubs that don't reach the group stages of Europe's second-tier competition would be granted entry into the third tournament.

According to an Associated Press report (h/t USA Today Sports), the proposal—which wouldn't become reality "until at least 2018"—was met with a positive reaction during a recent meeting of all 54 UEFA members in Malta.

UEFA officials are keen to expand their competitions to welcome the continent's smaller nations.
UEFA officials are keen to expand their competitions to welcome the continent's smaller nations.Virginia Mayo/Associated Press

In particular, executive director at the Football Federation of Ukraine, Volodymyr Geninson, endorsed the idea: "We are really supportive of this. For them, it will give opportunities not to finish the [European competitions] in August. It will give them opportunity to play in September and October."

The same report indicates Michel Platini, the president of European Football's governing body, is keen to give "smaller nations access to competitions."

This is an admirable proposal from UEFA, but one that may lack credibility in practice. That's been a problem for the Europa League since it took over the old UEFA Cup and merged with the now defunct Cup Winners' Cup.

The most important thing would be ensuring the third-tier competition is taken seriously, specifically by the clubs and managers participating in it.

The initial report claims some of the Premier League's mid-table sides may not welcome the idea: "Such a competition would appear more attractive to smaller clubs rather than English Premier League clubs like West Ham [United] and Southampton, who failed to reach the Europa League group stage this season."

Many Premier League clubs find the Europa League schedule enough of a problem to avoid taking that particular competition seriously. Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino has suggested the Europa League is a hindrance, according to the Guardian's David Hytner.

His sentiment is shared by Liverpool chief Brendan Rodgers. He feels a Europa League schedule makes it harder to navigate Premier League fixtures, as noted by Chris Beesley of the Liverpool Echo.

Not many Premier League managers welcome Europe's lesser competitions.
Not many Premier League managers welcome Europe's lesser competitions.Jon Super/Associated Press

If there's a theme here it's that most managers, at least in England's top flight, will sacrifice time in one of UEFA's less glamorous competitions if it means ensuring more points domestically.

That's the challenge facing a third tournament. How can UEFA incentivise it sufficiently to encourage teams to seriously compete? One thing that would help is scheduling. The AP suggests any third cup tournament could be settled "by the end of the calendar year," as opposed to stretching across a full league campaign.

Bringing back the Cup Winners' Cup, last won by Pavel Nedved's Lazio in 1999, would be a better proposal.
Bringing back the Cup Winners' Cup, last won by Pavel Nedved's Lazio in 1999, would be a better proposal.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ultimately though, a third competition in Europe will only work if there is legitimate prestige and sufficient financial reward attached to winning it. Those are the chief concerns of Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan, according to AP The Big Story reporter Rob Harris). He also cites logistical worries, such as travel, which would naturally be more difficult for less cash-rich clubs to manage.

Perhaps the victors could gain an automatic Europa League group-stage berth, the way the latter competition's winners go into the lucrative Champions League.

Without properly answering these issues, UEFA might as well leave its proposal in the boardroom.

Restoring the Cup Winners' Cup would be a better idea, offering greater incentive for so-called "smaller" clubs to take their own domestic cup competitions more seriously.   

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