Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWhy the Europa League is a joke - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Why the Europa League is a joke - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Why the Europa League is a joke

If it’s not the Champions League, when it comes to cup competitions it would seem that most teams don’t want to know.

The League Cup was the first to fall victim to this many years ago, and under its various different titles it has never been taken as seriously as the league or FA Cup.  Astonishingly, in recent seasons, the FA Cup itself has been belittled by top Premier League clubs who have chosen to field much weakened teams.

Not taking domestic cup competitions seriously is one thing, but what about a competition that you have to earn the right to qualify for?  A competition that most teams would love to be in, yet one that has turned into a joke.

European nights at any football club can be magical, and whilst the Champions League will always be the one everyone dreams of being in, the Europa League is a competition that English teams should at least be challenging to win each season.  In recent years this has not been the case, with no English winners since Liverpool in 2001 (when it was still named the UEFA Cup) and only Middlesbrough and Fulham making the final since then.  Considering there are at least three English teams in the competition each season, this really isn’t good enough. 

There are sometimes even more.  For example, last season when Manchester City and Manchester United were eliminated from the Champions League after finishing third in their respective groups, they were put into the last 32 of the Europa League.  This was a position which many teams had fought tooth and nail in their own group stage to qualify for, yet City and United were being awarded it as a consolation for not being good enough to remain in the Champions League.  This happens every season with third-placed teams in the Champions League group stage and, as long as it continues, the Europa League will continue to be treated as a joke.

However, this isn’t the only reason that the competition isn’t taken seriously.  The winners of the League Cup and the winners of the FA Cup both qualify for the Europa League but, with the winners having often already qualified for the Champions League by finishing in the top four, the places are then awarded to the sixth and seventh-placed teams.  The problem with this is that, most of the time, these are teams who have aspirations of playing in the Champions League; the Europa League is seen as a mere consolation and is treated as such.  An extreme example is Tottenham last season, who finished fourth yet lost their Champions League place to sixth-placed Chelsea, who qualified by winning last year’s competition.

On Thursday evening Liverpool, who qualified for the Europa League by winning the Carling Cup in February, travelled to Russia without a first team player in sight.  They ultimately lost 1-0 to Anzhi Makhachkala but, looking at the side Brendan Rodgers selected, Liverpool fans are probably relieved it wasn’t a heavier defeat.  It is understandable to want to look after your star players, especially with a midweek trip to the other side of Europe coming before a weekend game at Stamford Bridge.  It is also understandable to want to give young players time on the pitch in order for them to gain vital match experience.  But how is a player supposed to integrate himself into the team when he is playing with 10 people who have just as little chance of playing in the Premier League as he does?

In the 2009/10 season, Mick McCarthy’s Wolves were given a £25,000 suspended fine for making 10 changes for a trip to Old Trafford to face United.  A Premier League statement declared that Wolves’ team “was not full strength and therefore in breach of Rule E20” and that “the club had failed to fulfil its obligations to the league and other clubs in the utmost good faith and was therefore in breach of Rule B13”.

If Liverpool’s game against Anzhi had been in the Champions League, it is almost certain that Suarez, Gerrard and company would have travelled. 

Brendan Rodgers cannot claim that he did everything in his power to win that match on Thursday, so in what way does that maintain the sporting integrity of the game?