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.
Aug 31, 2015, 10:48 PM EDT
Three Premier League sides have some serious work to do on transfer deadline day. Who needs what?
Aug 31, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
Harry Redknapp was the ultimate star of transfer deadline day. Tuesday will be a sad, empty day without Harry around.
Done Deals: Recapping Man United (and others’) busy day — De Gea drama; Chicharito out; $56 million for Martial
Aug 31, 2015, 7:39 PM EDT
Manchester United were the world’s busiest football club on Monday. They, along with others, made headlines ahead of the transfer deadline.
NO DEAL: David de Gea’s transfer to Real Madrid falls through as Man United paperwork arrives too late
Aug 31, 2015, 6:53 PM EDT
Manchester United failed to submit the necessary paperwork before Spain’s transfer deadline, and De Gea will not move to Real Madrid.
Aug 31, 2015, 4:05 PM EDT
Two goals, one assist in a 3-0 victory over your club’s most hated rivals — more than enough to win POTW honors.
Aug 31, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
Two Bradleys, two from Crew SC and two from the Dynamo — the latest MLS Team of the Week.
Aug 31, 2015, 2:11 PM EDT
Yes, rumors know no season, but the transfer mill will churn out a lot less gossip after Tuesday’s end of the summer transfer season.
Aug 31, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
Manchester United and Real Madrid have swapped goalkeepers, with the Premier League side landing a load of dough, too.
Aug 31, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT
The UEFA Champions League clubs don’t find themselves well-represented in the Premier League Team of the Week after a weekend of shocks around Britain.
Aug 31, 2015, 12:32 PM EDT
We’re still waiting to see whether Javier Hernandez seals his move to Bayer Leverkusen. “Chicharito” has been spotted around Bayer HQ.
Aug 31, 2015, 11:23 AM EDT
The Black Panther is doing more than simply prowling; He is finishing his chances with style.
Aug 31, 2015, 11:09 AM EDT
The 2006 World Cup champion will organize Miami FC for co-owner Paolo Maldini during the club’s first season in the NASL.
Aug 31, 2015, 10:51 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look back at the PL weekend.
Aug 31, 2015, 10:35 AM EDT
It looks like we’re headed for a bonkers Transfer Deadline Day on Tuesday, and a trio of Premier League teams might be doing some under-the-radar business on Monday.
Aug 31, 2015, 9:33 AM EDT
With the transfer deadline approaching its Tuesday conclusion, deals and rumored deals are hitting the headlines at a head-spinning rate.
Aug 31, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
This Little Pea went to market, reportedly finding a new home in the Bundesliga (And did he really ask for $135k per goal from West Ham?).
Aug 31, 2015, 8:10 AM EDT
The French federation says Martial was given permission to leave camp by Didier Deschamps, and that he’ll sign a contract with United.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
A complete performance from the Red Bulls, who will finish the season unbeaten against their Atlantic Cup rivals.
Aug 30, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
Find out what moves have been completed with the transfer deadline approaching, as Wolfsburg made three big deals today.
Aug 30, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT
More than 64,000 supporters packed CenturyLink Field as the Sounders downed the Timbers in a Cascadia Cup clash.
- Big Spenders: Which Premier League clubs must go all-in on transfer deadline day? 0
- Done Deals: Recapping Man United (and others’) busy day — De Gea drama; Chicharito out; $56 million for Martial 0
- NO DEAL: David de Gea’s transfer to Real Madrid falls through as Man United paperwork arrives too late 3
- Report: De Gea moving to Madrid as Costa Rican hero Navas heads to Old Trafford 4
- Fireworks as transfer deadline passes in Germany: Draxler to Wolfsburg, Januzaj to Dortmund 2
- Premier League Playback: It’s time to change the Transfer Window rules 2