Although rarely allured by the prospect of a beating the bookies, even I decided that my predictions for the future of André Villas-Boas on Sunday night were as good as worthless were I to share them with Paddy Power or his associates. While a 0-6 defeat at Manchester City may by now appear an almost routine result, losing by only a goal less at home to a Liverpool side doing regrettably well is hardly as familiar and generally punishable with the sack. London will still remain an oasis of promised wealth and secured, longstanding ambition for exciting young professionals. Yet now it is but sand that is left in the shoe of André Villas-Boas as he ponders his next venture.
The details of both his role at the club and the justification of his parting with it is already a topic of fervent discussion. However, it is with one eye on the comic twist a number of tabloids chose to run with that an investigation should be probed. Soon after the departure of Villas-Boas it was the apparent return of Juande Ramos to White Hart Lane that baffled many for all the time it takes to blink. Ramos – the last manager to win a trophy with Spurs lest we forget – will lead his Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk side into a last-32 battle with Spurs in this season’s Europa League. Perhaps what is most telling is that Villas-Boas never knew of this while still in charge of Spurs. His fate had been decided before the knockout round draw had taken place. Of how little importance therefore is the Europa League to the clubs whose stature no doubt attracts the majority of the competition’s neutral viewers? Given the fate of Rafa Benitez after he led Chelsea to success in the competition last season, it would indeed appear to have very little bearing whatsoever. Something must surely be done.
In principle, a second tier competition will never rival the prestige of that which stands a tier above. In this regard the Champions League/European Cup and the Europa League/UEFA Cup hold true. This disparity works perfectly well as long as those who participate in either competition understand their duty as competitors. It is perfectly acceptable for a team competing in the second tier to hold aspirations of arising into the first as it is for those making up numbers in the top tier to fear a descent to the rung below. To those teams who hold an almost perennial position in either competition, featuring in the alternative offers an opportunity of exciting abandon or potential embarrassment. When all things are considered however, if football’s governing body – UEFA in this regard – feel that a change is needed you can be sure that it will be the second tier in which all experiments are carried out.
The arrival of the ‘Europa League’ smacked of a contemporary urging to coerce together the various strands of what is now considered the European continent. Its very name, in comparison to the slicker ‘UEFA Cup’, doesn’t register an intrigue with a bipartisan fan, rather, it all seems quite contrived. Furthermore, its mirroring of a Champions League format does little to enhance any attempts of attaching prestige; there are simply too many teams competing to accommodate a group-to-knockout plan like this. In comparison to the English game in which the Premier League is King, it is the League Cup as opposed to the Championship that shares that false sense of importance that the Europa League must exude. Although the League Cup is not the intended victim of my impatience here, it offers the strange equivalency of being worth very little to any plausible winners and yet a breeding ground for embarrassment should such teams fail to take each round seriously. As such, it is a competition whose often preposterous Wembley final is won by top domestic teams whose real concerns are in the months to come. Needless to say, it is a competition the like of which does not exist in Italy, Spain or Germany etc. to my knowledge. (Editor’s note – this is indeed true, although France does has both the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue; the second of which has similar lowly status as the League Cup).
That being said, I would disagree with those who feel that abandoning Europe’s second tiered competition is an act of progression – do what you will with the League Cup as far as I’m concerned though. In the spirit of this evolving European community it is continuous discussion and debate that we require so as to improve. There is a definite value in providing a continental stage for those teams unable to feasibly compete at the top table. What we must establish however is a fundamental criterion that determines who will benefit most. In the case of Chelsea for example, albeit perhaps an act of posturing bravado and a sideswipe at Benitez, José Mourinho’s remarks regarding Chelsea’s success in the Europa League prior to his return as being not necessarily success in Europe provides a telling insight. For a club of Chelsea’s contemporary standing the Europa League does offer relatively little by way of worthwhile success. Therefore one must ask, why were they competing at all if even victory would leave them shy of success?
Due to their third place finish in their Champions League group, Chelsea entered the Europa League. Ultimately, this system is worth questioning if those subject to it see it as a punishment much less a secondary chance at securing continental silverware. However, for some, largely those who were perhaps fortunate to have made the Champions League group stages at all, a third place finish is something to celebrate. How then can we delineate an adequate solution? Personally, I believe that a knock out from the Champions League should signify the conclusion of a club’s continental exposure for that season. It is not like either competition struggles for numbers and in what I can only imagine is a purely financial driven motive, allowing the ‘big’ teams who are suffering a poor run of form another opportunity to stay in Europe does not reflect the intended equality for those hoping to make an initial impact. Severing this tie that links the teams competing in the Champions League with those competing in the Europa League would offer a first step toward instilling in the Europa League a desired state of independent importance rather than a side road off the motor-way. As a stand-alone competition it would then become more plausible to establish a more gratifying format.
When it comes to this question, any systematic format worth considering can be read in Issue Four of The Blizzard. Brian Phillips’ propositions are carefully considered and credibly aimed largely at the potential entertainment value for those fans that UEFA is so keen to keep interested by harnessing the participation of the ‘big’ clubs who truthfully would rather not be playing on a Thursday night. To save you and I the trouble of re-writing/reading what has already been said, follow this link to grasp an idea of what the Europa League could plausibly be – http://runofplay.tumblr.com/post/19731805049/how-do-you-solve-a-problem-like-the-europa-league.
The worth of a competition can only truly be measured out by the value its competitors place on it. When a team of Spurs’ stature – competed once in the Champions League proper – feel that potential success in the Europa League is not a chance worth keeping their manager employed for, something will have to change. Allowing teams the opportunity to opt out of competing would be farcical. Therefore, if the Europa League is to possess any tangible place as a continental competition worth considering, it must become sharper, quicker and perhaps most importantly of all more worthwhile to all involved. Perhaps a place in the following season’s Champions League would act as an appropriate stimulant. Money is undoubtedly the key concern for clubs wishing to enter the golden circle of clubs who perennially have it. Seeing that these are the same clubs that often find themselves competing in the Europa League, any chance of success for this second tier competition will largely depend on what can be gained from winning it.