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.
Oct 30, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT
Mike Prindiville and Joe Prince-Wright join Jenna Corrado to discuss the Manchester Derby between Manchester United and Manchester City.
Oct 30, 2014, 12:38 PM EDT
Like Steve McQueen in “Papillon,” only nattily-attired, the Newcastle United manager just seems to be constantly yelling out, “Hey… I’m still here.”
Oct 30, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT
He’s being linked with Swansea City, though club chairman Huw Jenkins said while the club is entertaining investors, any specific names would be “pure speculation.”
Oct 30, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
The proposed moves would leave only 10 days prep time before the World Cup began, and would also alter the UEFA Champions League schedule.
Oct 30, 2014, 10:40 AM EDT
What do you think? Mean-spirited to the public or just a decent Candid Camera-style prank?
Oct 30, 2014, 9:51 AM EDT
“I’ve got 30 and 34-year-olds in my locker room in tears because we feel it’s been unfairly taken away from us,” said coach Carl Robinson.
Oct 30, 2014, 9:02 AM EDT
And it’s claimed that Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger will sign a veteran back from Juventus, bucking his trends of signing attackers and youth.
Oct 30, 2014, 8:19 AM EDT
PSS Sleman and PSIS Semarang have been disqualified from their country’s playoffs after conceding five own goals in their their match.
Oct 30, 2014, 7:44 AM EDT
Michel converted the penalty past David Ousted, and FC Dallas hung on for the win in an otherwise fast-paced, fun game in Texas.
Oct 29, 2014, 11:10 PM EDT
Carlos Vela is set to return to the Mexican National Team making them a much more dangerous side.
Oct 29, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
Nothing like a behind-the-scenes World Cup doc to pique the interest.
Oct 29, 2014, 9:42 PM EDT
Vincent Tan. Coming to a MLS club near you!
Oct 29, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT
Steve Zakuani. A supremely talented player, forced to call it quits way too early.
Oct 29, 2014, 8:01 PM EDT
Franck Ribery is short but probably not the kind of guy you want to mess with.
Oct 29, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
A late equalizer from Mario Balotelli helps spur the rally that sees Liverpool into the League Cup quarter-finals.
Oct 29, 2014, 6:08 PM EDT
Add another Arsenal attacker to the roster.
Oct 29, 2014, 5:07 PM EDT
Beware, Premier League footballers. The FA is all over Twitter.
Oct 29, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Raul signs with the Cosmos, will head up the youth program upon retirement.
Oct 29, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT
Mandzukic makes a meal of it and the Royal Spanish Football Federation eats it up.
Oct 29, 2014, 3:10 PM EDT
In the lead up to the Manchester Derby, Aleksander Kolorov believes City have overtaken United as kings of Manchester.
- European clubs propose later domestic Cup finals, April-May World Cup in 2022 3
- Rumors know no window: Liverpool after Reus, Manchester United wants Draxler 2
- VIDEO: Hugely-controversial call sees FC Dallas past Vancouver in playoffs. Your vote? 4
- Timbers’ Steve Zakuani announces retirement from professional soccer 1
- League Cup Roundup: Balotelli saves Liverpool, Newcastle defeat Manchester City 0
- Report: Spanish legend Raul signs with the New York Cosmos 0