How do you solve a problem like the Europa League?


Pity the poor Europa League- at one point in history, a genuinely interesting competition full of teams that want to win the competition, now reduced to patronising platitudes.

The prompt sheet found at a press conference for Spurs ahead of their game against Panathanaikos in the competition showed the extent of the damage.

The sheet was a directive from UEFA asking managers and players to play up the history, heritage and prestige of the competition in a rather pitiful bid to rescue the flailing competition.

Andre Villas-Boas played up the competition at the press conference ahead of the match.

The problems with the Europa League are well-documented and obvious; it’s place in the shadow of the Champions League being the main problem.

Simple fact of the matter is that the teams in it from the bigger countries tend to want to get into the Champions League next season via their domestic league so concentrate on their resources at home.

Thus, the teams they field in the Europa League are weakened and make for sterile, boring contests in the competition as they are still too strong for the teams from the weaker nations which are there for the admirable reason of extending the UEFA franchise but are woefully out of their depth.

It is shoehorned into the awkward Thursday evening slot, the prize money is pitiful and games are either one-sided or plain dull until about the last eight when they only true quality teams in the competition are left.

Gone are the days when the competition was strong from start to finish with teams like Inter Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea regularly competing in the competition in its heyday in the mid 1990s.

There has been much debate over how to save the competition in recent years but the simple fact of the matter is it that it is beyond saving.

The problems outlined are so ingrained that they have reached the point of no return and it is mainly down to the money issue.

UEFA cannot scale down the Champions League to push more top teams into the Europa League as that would be akin to gagging the golden goose.

UEFA cannot also force teams in the competition to put out their best possible teams as that is not how football works really.

Putting a place in the Champions League as a prize does not work as what is the point in having a competition where the winner does not defend their title?

Perhaps the only way to get more competitive football would be to increase the prize packet for the winners of the competition to make it worth winning and to streamline the Europa League back to the old days of the UEFA Cup to a straight knock-out competition making every game worthwhile and meaningful.

But then we come back to the issue of money once again…