Premier League clubs should relish their shot at Europa League glory
Players at sides outside the top six should relish their opportunity to play in Europe, writes Michael Cox
Manchester City were handed a tough tie against Porto, while Manchester United will take on Dutch champions Ajax for a place in the Europa League’s last 16 following Friday’s draw in Nyon.
The heavyweight clashes will add some glamour to a competition often belittled by supporters of Engish clubs despite the chance it provides for sides outside the top six ““ who realistically will never qualify for Champions League ““ to taste continental football.
Only Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham will have any chance of dining at Europe’s top table in the coming years.
It poses the question why clubs such as Aston Villa, Everton and Sunderland seem reluctant to want to qualify for what, in theory, is a prestigious competition.
“I really wouldn’t embrace the competition if Everton were to get into it, it’d come as fourth priority even behind the League Cup, I couldn’t see the likes of Tim Cahill getting excited about the prospect of going to Norway on a Thursday night,” said disgruntled Everton supporter Matthew Sains.
Of course, it does congest a club’s fixture list: Thursday night in Europe followed by a league game on the Sunday, and not forgetting two domestic cup competitions can prove a drain on limited squads in the league.
But it can also provide supporters with memories to savour.
Prior to Fulham’s appearance in the Europa League final in 2010, their fans had not tasted the chance of winning silverware in over 35 years ““ the Craven Cottage outfit lost in the FA Cup final to West Ham United in 1975.
The London outfit walked out in the Nordbank Arena and lined up against Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan, both at the time representing Atletico Madrid, to compete for the chance of Europa League glory.
Fulham were defeated by the Spanish side but en route to the final, supporters were treated to thrilling encounters against Hamburg, Juventus, Basel and Wolfsburg.
Two years ago, Liverpool supporters did not appear particularly disappointed when they were eliminated from the Europa League at the semi-final stage by the eventual winners.
The amount of matches ““ Fulham’s final appearance was their 19th game in the competition – does make it less appealing.
After Fulham crashed out of this season’s Europa League on Thursday night, Martin Jol appeared content to focus on the Premier League with Europe providing an unwanted distraction, instantly “looking at the positives”.
He wore the same expression on his face throughout and the Dutch manager did not appear particularly bothered by his side’s exit.
Players at sides outside the top six should relish the opportunity to play around Europe but bizarrely it just seems to be a pain rather than a pleasure.
Perhaps the prospect of a Champions League berth the following season would galvanise clubs to perhaps take it more seriously.
Or, if the competition were to be a knockout format from the start, it certainly would entice more fans to bear a cold Thursday evening, when it appears the armchair fan would much rather tune in to ITV4 than make their way down to their teams ground to see Amkar Perm play.
“I’d much rather we weren’t in it next season. There’s some hopeless sides in there and it can massively affect your league campaign even if we made the semi-finals I think the Stadium of Light would be less empty when Wigan come to town,” said life-long Sunderland fan Alex Marr.
It remains a mystery why so many fans instantly disregard the Europa League as a hindrance, especially when your club is not one of the top six.
Because for many clubs it won’t get better than “˜The Channel 5 Cup’ for quite some time.