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.
Jul 5, 2015, 7:16 PM EDT
Inter Milan released a statement defending itself as Fiorentina vice president Paolo Panerai criticized his rival in the midst of Mohamed Salah’s transfer situation.
Jul 5, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
Watch the Women’s World Cup final live online. Kickoff at 7 p.m. ET.
Jul 5, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
After having his contract terminated for violence with match security, Emir Spahic will play for Hamburger SV next season.
Jul 5, 2015, 4:03 PM EDT
Despite Sergio Ramos’ transfer being heavily linked to Manchester United, rival Andres Iniesta believes the defender is going nowhere.
Jul 5, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT
The Indian Super League continues to bring in the big names.
Jul 5, 2015, 2:22 PM EDT
After three stints managing the Super Eagles, Stephen Keshi is out once again.
Jul 5, 2015, 1:35 PM EDT
The U.S. defense has been unbreakable, and Japan loves to keep the ball. Something has to give in the final.
Jul 5, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
After making some tactical changes at the break, Micronesia held Fiji to just 17 second half goals.
Jul 5, 2015, 12:21 PM EDT
After another brutal loss in a major tournament final, Argentina’s Javier Mascherano couldn’t explain what went wrong.
Jul 5, 2015, 11:25 AM EDT
Catch up on all six of Saturday night’s MLS matches, right here.
Jul 5, 2015, 10:27 AM EDT
It may be Sunday, but transfer gossip doesn’t take weekends off.
Jul 5, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
At 32 years of age, Sampson impressed many by leading England to a third-place finish in the Women’s World Cup.
Jul 5, 2015, 8:34 AM EDT
Sepp’s not going down without a fight, now bringing major political leaders into the mix.
Jul 5, 2015, 7:44 AM EDT
On the Fourth of July, there were fireworks all across Major League Soccer.
Jul 5, 2015, 7:40 AM EDT
Both countries hope that this final will help bring further attention to the women’s game.
Jul 5, 2015, 4:51 AM EDT
Olympic gold medals are great, but this group wants a World Cup title.
Jul 4, 2015, 11:23 PM EDT
On a day where Laura Bassett showed great resolve, England won over many neutrals.
Jul 4, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
The U.S. hasn’t given up a goal in 513 minutes at this World Cup, heading into the final against Japan.
Jul 4, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Kei Kamara -> Ethan Finlay (x2) was all Crew SC needed to jump three places in the Eastern Conference.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:20 PM EDT
Eduaro Vargas and Paolo Guerrero beat all the big names to the 2015 Copa America top scorer’s award.
- Sunday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Manchester City ready to spend, Spurs agree for Alderweireld 0
- Sepp Blatter claims French and German presidents influenced World Cup voters 1
- United States, Japan meet in Women’s World Cup final with high hopes back home 2
- Krieger credits Ellis, communication for United States’ defensive success 2
- Chile 0-0 (4-1 PKs) Argentina: Chile’s first Copa America title in 99-year history (video) 3
- Lloyd, Brian prove crucial to United States’ turnaround at Women’s World Cup 2