Europa League: More than the runt of the UEFA litter

Europa League logoTHE UEFA Europa League is the best representation of European football and it is sorely undervalued by British Football fans and clubs up and down the isle. This undeniable fact reflects poorly upon us as a football nation that will contribute four teams to this summer’s European Championships in France.

The Europa League is a wonderful competition that allows ‘smaller’ clubs greater exposure to the European stage. However, both at the later and earlier stages of the ‘inferior’ competition the European heavyweights muscle in to take the place of the clubs that have been fighting for qualification from the beginning of July and early August, making the play-off rounds essentially a waste of time.

Yours truly was in Amsterdam on 4th August 2015 to watch Rapid Wien vs. Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena in the UEFA Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round. Though it’s not the FA Cup final it’s a knockout match and a classic European tie. The four-time champions of Europe versus Austria’s most successful and biggest club. In the European Cup’s old guise this would have been headline news, but given the demeaning use of UEFA coefficient ratings to devalue domestic football, Louis Schaub’s late winner on my best night as a football fan in the delirious Rapid away end meant nothing in the grand scheme of the 2015/2016 season, because of what UEFA allow to happen next.

Rapid qualified for the 4th Round, where they would be eliminated by Shakhtar ‘Brasilia Reserves’ FC on away goals, ensuring their qualification for the Europa League Group Stages. Given their defeat at the hands of the “Grunweissen”, Ajax ‘dropped down’ to the 4th Qualifying Round of the Europa League, which they duly won, and both teams finished in the Group Stages of the Europa League.

Sorry, Rapid beat Ajax 5-4 on aggregate with three away goals, in Amsterdam, in the second leg. Ajax should have simply been kicked out of the competition.

Fast-forward to this coming month, when both European competitions begin again, and injustice raises its head once more. Rapid are having their best European campaign since 2006. Gary Neville’s Valencia have been drawn against Rapid in the round of 32 having accrued six points from six Champions League Group Matches in a group containing Zenit St. Petersburg and Gent.

Let me repeat, they couldn’t get out of a group containing KAA GENT. Another victory for the ‘smaller’ clubs. But no, the 2004 Spanish Champions and 2000 Champions League Finalists cannot possibly be told to pack their bags, right? They should have been, they were rubbish. Meanwhile, Rapid win 5 of 6 and top Europa League Group E. Los Che should be out. As should Gary Neville’s former club, the argument founded on similar grounds.

Coefficient Ratings mean nothing and they shouldn’t exist, OR, here’s a revolutionary idea, places in the European Competitions should be fairly divided between UEFA Member Nations. What if David Alaba fires Austria to a last four berth at this summer’s Euros? Does the Premier League (who have not provided an international tournament winner for it’s entire existence) forfeit one of their four spots?

Is the Austrian Bundesliga title really that meaningless? In Spain and Germany they only have four spots because one or two teams are consistently among the last four in the UEFA Champions League. Real and Barcelona are also in MILLIONS of debt, whereas Bayern Munchen own their stadium having bought tenants 1860 Munich out of their stake in 2015, paying back the money used to finance the building of the Allianz Stadium early in the process.

Bayern also only use profit to buy their players, while Barcelona lie about how much they actually pay for players and register 77 players in the 24 hours after a transfer ban comes to an end. Read, that sentence, again. It is truth.

Currently in France, for argument’s sake, Nice in third position will gain Champions League qualification. They’re 24 points behind Paris Saint Germain. Whatever points you want to make about the validity of the Parisian club’s ownership as Dubai once again pops its puss-engorged head into European football are not valid here, albeit valid in another debate about foreign ownership. Should a team be gaining qualification to the ‘Top Tier’ of European football having finished so far behind the league leaders in their country?

I would have thought British football fans were far more respectful of trophies than they currently make themselves out to be on phone-ins and social media sites. Also, the argument that being in the Europa League harms your league campaign is complete… rubbish.

Wednesday to Saturday is the same amount of days as Thursday to Sunday. Look at Tottenham this season if you don’t believe me. Or a calendar.

Europa League victory ensures Champions League qualification at the Group Stage and participation in The UEFA Super Cup in August against PSG, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid (*delete as appropriate, gone are the days of Steaua Bucaresti winning the European Cup).

The Europa League means everything to Sevilla, Villareal, Dnipro and Rapid Wien and it should to every real fan of football. It’s a chance for Rapid to hold on to that whisper of a thrill that they are a ‘Big Club’. Newsflash: they still are and always will be. They have won the Austrian title 32 times. They should be applauded, not patted on the head by Platini and the powers that be just for taking part. Of their 24-strong playing squad as of 31st August 2015, 18 are Austrian and Captain Steffen “Fussballgott” Hofmann is German. No Brazilian Ukrainians in sight.

Football existed before 1992. The biggest derby in world football IS NOT El Clasico. There is more to European football than The UEFA Champions League. The Europa League is a competition that should stand alone, for Cup winners even, and The Champions League should comply to its name and be a knockout. Reminds me of something….