There is an on-going debate about how serious English teams should take the Europa League. There are many arguments for and against competing seriously.
If English clubs continue to perform badly then it could hurt England’s standing in the UEFA rankings in the long run. This means less teams from England will be able to play in European competition and it will hurt their favourable seeding during the draws. It is also important for sponsorship revenues and the brand and prestige of the club.
But is it the right competition for Tottenham? We have won 3 trophies in 27 years (compared to 11 in the 27 years before that) so from a purely sporting perspective I’m not sure that we can turn our noses up at it. But an argument is do we have the squad to compete in both the league and the Europa League?
A few years ago under Harry Redknapp, there was no doubt we had the squad depth and quality to compete on both fronts. One of the things I like most about Villas-Boas, and disliked most about Redknapp, is their approaches to this competition. It’s a European trophy and we are a team that could do with all the trophies we can get. Yet Redknapp continued to put out second rate sides. To counteract this argument you could say that with Harry prioritizing the league it helped us qualify for the Champions League.
Clubs get a similar amount of prize money for winning the Europa League and making the group stage of the Champions League. Clubs taking part in this season’s UEFA Champions’ League group stage can expect to receive a minimum €7.2m, In addition, they will be entitled to a match bonus of €550,000 per match played in the group stage. Performance bonuses will also see €800,000 paid for every win and €400,000 for every draw in the group stage. The club that goes on to win the trophy could collect €31.5m, whereas European football’s governing body confirmed that FC Porto, the winners of the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League, received €7,837,046. If winning the competition were to cost us a Champions League place, then would it be worth it? I’m not sure.
We lost two of our most creative players of the last decade in the summer in Modric and Van der Vaart and replaced them with Dempsey and Sigurdsson, who have yet to set the world alight. So we don’t really have the squad to start prioritizing this competition too highly in my opinion. We should be trying to win every game we play but there is a balance. If we get the balance wrong between committing to the Europa League and it affects our Premiership form I can’t see too many being happy about it. So at the moment AVB is trying to do a juggling act between the Premiership and the Europa League.
Gaining entrance to the Champions League is also vital for attracting the top class players we need to push us onto the next level. Wenger recently said CL qualification is effectively a trophy. He said it ranked 3rd most important after winning the league and the CL because no top class player is interested in whether you’ve won the FA Cup or are in the Europa League. They want to know if you play in the Champions League.
So are UEFA to blame for English teams’ lack of interest in competing seriously in this competition? Despite the money difference in competitions, UEFA have made it far more awkward than it needs to be for any of the clubs in it purely for TV revenue and to stop it clashing with the Champions League. It makes it far harder to compete in the league because of this. If this was addressed by Platini & Co. it would be taken far more seriously by every club in it, not just English teams.
Money is running football at the moment and finishing in the top 4 seems to be more important than winning other competitions, such as the League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League. Take Kenny Dalglish as an example. He won the League Cup and got to the final of the FA Cup, yet did not get Champions League football for Liverpool and found himself getting the sack.
A way I believe UEFA can change things would be for the winners of the Europa League to be guaranteed entry in to the Champions League the following season. This would ensure teams would take the competition more seriously. Another thing they could do would be to stop the Champions League drop outs coming in to the Europa League’s round of 32. In my opinion this belittles the Europa League and further enforces the idea that it is a second rate competition.
There were some Spurs fans claiming 3rd would have been an underachievement last season so when we actually finished 4th it was seen as an outrage. The reason we finished that high is because we prioritized the league. It appears that AVB is prioritizing slightly differently this season and fair play to him. I just hope it doesn’t detract from our league performances as I’m not sure we have the squad currently to really make a concerted effort to win the Europa League and push for 4th place.
Tottenham only need 1 point from their last game at home to Panathinaikos to ensure qualification into the next round of the cup. No disrespect to Panathinaikos but this should be a game we will win comfortably. Once in the knockout stages I would like to see us take the competition seriously. We have a very strong chance of winning the trophy. There are some very good teams in the competition such as Atlético Madrid with more prestigious teams to come following Champions League exit, but on our day we are capable of beating the best of teams. Spurs have not won a European trophy since 1984 and it would be great to put that to bed.