UEFA’s recent proposals to do away with the Europa League and instead increase the size of the Champions League to a leviathan 64-team tournament may hold sound financial benefits but it highlights the changing mentality of club football.
Rather than have a Champions League hosting the best teams in Europe and a Europa League that gives smaller clubs the chance to win a European trophy – for it is only in England where people have major problems with the Europa League – UEFA have proposed streamlining their competitions into one tournament.
The problem with this is, in creating a continent-wide tournament UEFA will detach football from one of its major sporting attributes: winning a trophy.
Football is now about balance sheets, sponsorship deals and revenue streams. Disappearing are the days when your team’s main aim was to win a trophy rather than qualify fourth for the Champions League. Success is now viewed through profits not cups, with Arsenal a perfect example of a club run purely for business in sacrifice of what fans deem success. They have qualified for the knock-out stages of the Champions League once again but have not win a trophy in seven years.
If UEFA absolve the Europa League then that’s countless more teams without a chance of winning a tournament. Ask Fulham fans if they would have rather played a boring group stage with 63 other disinterested sides or reach a European final in 2010.
Ask Atletico Madrid fans if they would have swapped Europa League success last year for six pointless games against middling clubs before falling by the wayside as Barcelona surge to the final yet again.
Granted, the Europa League format needs changing but not casting aside. Football should be about winning trophies: about pitting our team against yours and seeing who is the best. It should not be about having a great day out in Milan and dining off that 2-0 defeat for the rest of your life.
UEFA will make the wrong move if they drop the Europa League, with teams happy to play for the money rather than go for a cup.
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