The Europa League came to an end last night with an excellent game between Dnipro and Sevilla. The Spanish club emerged as 3-2 winners, thus retaining the trophy and getting a Champions League place for next season.
Given the glory and heartache on display, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was an important trophy and not the “rubbish”, “rotten”, “devalued” ,”drain on resources” or “waste of time” it is christened every year. English football pundits and managers seem to believe you have to play 29 games to win it and that it involves climbing a mountain and fighting crocodiles. They still weirdly see it as getting in the way of that important business of hanging on to your 8th-placed finish in the Premier League. It gets in the way, despite it being football and they being football clubs.
As it turned out, no English club was anywhere near good enough to win the trophy, though some of them did give it a good go. But it’s OK, because it doesn’t matter. It’s not the Champions League or the Premier League so, y’know, f**k it.
The Premier League’s modern day mix of wealthy but frequently mediocre teams are routinely exposed in the Europa League, ironically often by sides that are routinely plundered of their best players by Premier League teams. Apparently Sevilla’s wage bill is less than Hull’s. Can you see Hull winning the thing? Laughable.
Maybe that’s why the Premier League addicts don’t like it. It makes their precious “top” sides look like dreck. It devalues their product by implicitly suggesting that actually, Premier League teams are not that good and thus the league is not that good.
I confess to being utterly biased against the over-rated, pompous self-regarding nonsense that the Premier League has become, but it always seems to me, as an avid watcher of the Europa League, that its clubs are regularly outplayed in the later stages by better organised and more committed teams.
Yet when a club such as Spurs loses to a club like Fiorentina, it is rarely painted as a loss to a better side, it’s painted as the English club fielding a weakened team or just not trying that hard because it’s a third-rate trophy and phew, what a relief they’ve got knocked out because there’s a big Super Sunday game against Sunderland on Sunday. How can any human be expected to play on Thursday AND Sunday??!! It is almost painted as a success to be out of the Europa League.
I don’t know if other European countries take the Europa League much more seriously, but it seems to me that a lot of their clubs do. Sevilla and Dnipro certainly knew its worth last night.
You can argue that the format isn’t right, and that it would be better as a knockout trophy. That is almost certainly true, but it is just as true for the Champions League. Challenges to its structure are non-existent, even though it delivers the same games against the same clubs year after year.
Indeed, I suspect this is what some like about it. It is a predictable product, like a Travelodge or milk. Some of us see that as a big negative, some the opposite. I have never seen Dnipro play Sevilla before and that was one of the big attractions, on top of the fact that both were good teams to watch.
The sheer level of prolonged antagonism to the Europa League in England is mystifying and increasingly out-dated, old-fashioned and self-absorbed. It seems to be perpetuated by people who don’t even watch it. Those who are so disparaging can’t seem to see that, like money, no trophy has any worth if you don’t believe it had worth; nothing in football has any intrinsic worth, you have to invent it.
By simply rejecting it, all that the Europa League’s critics are really saying is I don’t like football…or perhaps more specifically, I don’t like non-English football. It’s a viewpoint that should be thoroughly disparaged.