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.
May 27, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
According to his agent, Balotelli is going nowhere this summer. He’ll stay and fight for his place next season.
May 27, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
11 current and former officials from around the world have been provisionally banned from all football-related activities.
May 27, 2015, 5:23 PM EDT
Rog and Davo relive the Premier League’s season finale, including squeaky bum time at the bottom of the table.
May 27, 2015, 4:42 PM EDT
It was a thrilling Europa League final. Sevilla are back-to-back Europa League champions, and into next year’s Champions League.
May 27, 2015, 4:32 PM EDT
Sergio Aguero was the Premier League’s top goalscorer this season, but was he the best attacker in the league? He has plenty of competition.
May 27, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT
After leading the Black Cats to Premier League safety, “The Little General” has announced he won’t return to the Stadium of Light next season.
May 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Goal scorers, goal creators, ball winners, possession destroyers — the list of top-10 midfielders has a little bit of everything.
May 27, 2015, 2:43 PM EDT
“Today’s events are a disaster for FIFA and tarnish the image of football as a whole. “
May 27, 2015, 2:17 PM EDT
The most controversial figure in world soccer has broken his silence.
May 27, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
If Aston Villa wants any shot at beating Arsenal in the FA Cup final this Saturday, Christian Benteke must come up big.
May 27, 2015, 1:06 PM EDT
“This really is the World Cup of fraud, and today we are issuing FIFA a red card.”
May 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
With the Hoops heading down to the Championship, Queens Park Rangers will have a completely new look next season.
May 27, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT
They say defense wins championships, so expect to see quite a bit of Chelsea blue on this list.
May 27, 2015, 10:31 AM EDT
Atsu spent this season on loan at Everton, and it looks like the Ghanaian will be headed south to the Premier League’s newest club.
May 27, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
Sepp Blatter has served as president for 17 years and is expected to easily win reelection.
May 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Let’s take a walk through the six yard box with the Premier League’s 10 best ‘keepers for 2014-15.
May 27, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
A press conference is scheduled to be held at 10:30 a.m. ET from the U.S. Department of Justice.
May 27, 2015, 7:52 AM EDT
Texas has been hit with massive flooding that has left at least 19 dead, as soccer takes a backseat.
May 27, 2015, 6:55 AM EDT
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch speaks about the FBI’s investigation into widespread allegations of corruption at FIFA.
FIFA fallout continues: Swiss authorities open criminal proceedings into allocation of 2018, 2022 World Cups
May 27, 2015, 6:08 AM EDT
Mark down May 27, 2015 as perhaps the lowest point in FIFA’s history.
- FIFA ethics committee bans 11 current, former officials from all football-related activities 3
- UEFA calls for postponement of FIFA presidential election, threatens to boycott congress 5
- FIFA president Sepp Blatter releases first statement since overnight arrests 11
- Three things we learned from the US Department of Justice news conference on the FIFA investigation 6
- FIFA presidential elections will go on Friday despite arrests 6
- FBI, US Department of Justice issues damning statement on FIFA, details corruption investigation 8