May 15, 2013, 6:04 PM EDT
Many of Europa League’s problems were laid bare on Wednesday, and while moments after the tournament’s high point seem an ill-opportune time to address those concerns, there aren’t many other points on the calendar when we’re willing to consider Europa. For many teams in the competition – small clubs in top-heavy leagues that have little chance of ever making Champions League — it’s a great tournament, one that gives them opportunities, opponents, and exposure they wouldn’t otherwise have. And UEFA tosses in some money, too. For other teams, however, the tournament is a conciliatory obligation, one in which they’re used as a pawn to enhance the competition’s spurious legitimacy.
Thus was have today’s final. Chelsea was only in it because they flamed out of Champions League. Same with Benfica, who didn’t have Chelsea’s excuse of having played in a difficult group. They failed to beat out Celtic for the knockout round spot from their Champions League group. Why would anybody create a competition where two of fall’s underachievers are competing for honors in the spring?
If you’re reading this site, that’s probably not news to you, but as you see the likes of John Terry and Rafa Benítez celebrate today’s win, keep their accomplishment in perspective. Today was a battle between two teams for whom Europa League will never be a preseason goal. This, as the abused yet accurate metaphor explains, is to European soccer what the National Invitational Tournament is to NCAA basketball. Since everybody – from the fans, to the coaches, to the players – knows it’s “the other tournament,” the stakes are never going to justify the pomp.
That attitude was apparent through most of today’s match. Yes, it was very entertaining at the end – 10 minutes of back-and-forth action that almost talked you into an extra 30 – but for most of the day, the match was drab. Benfica’s midfield controlled much of it. Chelsea didn’t care. A goal off a long ball; a penalty kick – it wasn’t exactly captivating stuff. Though the tactical battle in the midfield added a somewhat cerebral (or, philosophical) element to the game, that intrigue was undermined by a lack of intensity. Call it cagey, if you want, but it was still a problem, one that was only corrected in the final moments.
All of which goes back to the competition’s main problems. Not enough teams that care about it, especially those which are relegated to it from Champions League. And when those teams enter the competition in the Round of 32, they are often superior to those competing in group stage, creating a continuity issue that begs potential viewers to discard the tournament’s initial rounds and only invest once the apathy.
Those favorites aren’t apathetic forever. Eventually, they convince themselves there’s something in winning a trophy. They delude themselves into believing an honor they didn’t care about six months earlier is worth the champagne and theatrics. I still don’t understand the psychosis behind this.
If Chelsea and Benfica weren’t today’s finalists, we might have seen a more spirited game – a contest between two sides that didn’t have to come to terms with their newly deflated status. If Europa League were left to those teams who could really use the competition – those who aren’t in Champions League and aren’t likely to get their any time soon – we could see sides that treat this match like an honor.
So give this tournament to the teams that want it. No more Champions League back doors, and no more looking toward the occasional big name entrant as a way to raise the competition’s profile. It’s more important to have compelling matches in a tournament with competitive integrity. While that means we might not have a club of Chelsea’s profile in the final, we may, in the long run, end up with a competition capable of earning a profile of its own.
Apr 28, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
With six massive teams from Europe in action, plus three MLS sides, here’s where you can see them this summer.
After Bournemouth all but seal Premier League place, here’s some other minnows to make the top-flight
Apr 28, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT
Here’s a look at five small clubs who have come and gone in the PL era.
Apr 28, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
The Mexican international is enjoying life in Spain’s capital. How much longer will he be around?
Apr 28, 2015, 8:20 AM EDT
Can the Tigers grab a big win vs. Liverpool to ease their relegation fears? Watch live on NBCSN, Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET.
Apr 28, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT
If this happened, and it’s a big if, it would surely be the biggest swap deal in soccer history.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Sometimes words can’t be used to express emotions, so this team resorted to throwing wild haymakers instead.
Apr 27, 2015, 9:10 PM EDT
A friendly reminder that we’re all entirely too knee-jerk with our reactions these days.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
This one is an absolute beauty from Bobby Wood, who’s doing his part to keep Erzgebirge Aue from being relegated out of 2. Bundesliga.
Apr 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Freddy made his second appearance for KuPS last week, and dare we say it, he looked pretty good. See for yourself.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:55 PM EDT
Only an all-time historic meltdown of epic proportions can keep Bournemouth out of the Premier League now.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Maybe the best player in MLS that you don’t know about, it’s time to recognize Ethan Finlay.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
28 goals in 9 games means choices aplenty for this week’s MLS Team of the Week.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:11 PM EDT
Now 21-year-old midfielder John McGinn is set for three weeks on the sidelines, though he also has a heck of a story.
Apr 27, 2015, 2:18 PM EDT
The 29-year-old Belgian center back joins a unit which has conceded just 19 goals in La Liga play, the best total in the league by six goals.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:35 PM EDT
Hazard is now the PFA’s reigning Player of the Year. We doubt very much this video will make his peers think they voted incorrectly.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:16 PM EDT
Backup keeper Erik Kronberg is ineligible for the competition since he was a part of Sporting KC earlier in the tournament.
Apr 27, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT
The headlines aren’t being kind to Newcastle on Monday morning, and it seems their manager is sick of his players’ performance and grief from supporters.
Apr 27, 2015, 11:08 AM EDT
True to form, the West is leading. Perhaps not to expectations, but leading nonetheless.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:35 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at Week 34 in the PL.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:10 AM EDT
Find out which club put forth a performance that was second to none in Round 34 of the Premier League.
- International Champions Cup: Schedule revealed as Chelsea, Manchester United take on MLS sides 1
- After Bournemouth all but seal Premier League place, here’s some other minnows to make the top-flight 0
- Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez calls Real Madrid “best team in the world” 1
- Premier League Preview: Hull City vs. Liverpool 1
- MLS Player of the Week — Week 8: Columbus Crew SC’s Ethan Finlay 0
- MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 8 0