What is the Europa League? Seriously, what is the UEFA Europa League?
Drawn a blank face, representative of a blank mind? Consider your ignorance forgiven. Perhaps what comes to mind is the European competition for farmers, by farmers, on farms, somewhere in the deeper recesses of the Eurasian continent. Perhaps what comes to mind is a pale shadow reminiscent of fascism, Marxism and socialism, in sharp contrast to the spectacle of the individualism and capitalism of Western Europe that is the bosom of familiarity. Perhaps what comes to mind is Manchester United. Or Sevilla. Or Arsenal the season next. Arsenal fans have no idea what the Europa league is.
Perhaps an answer comes to mind, somewhat along the lines that the UEFA Europa league is the annual second tier competition for teams as appropriated by the UEFA coefficient that include:
- teams who finish in various runners-up positions in their association’s top-flight leagues, although ineligible for the UEFA Champions League, and the winners of the main cup competition, except
- teams from the Belgian league, which awards one berth via a ”First A” v “First B” playoff and
- winners of the secondary cup competition of the English and French Associations and/except
- Andorra and San Marino who have one less berth than the three allotted to all the higher ranked associations and
- Gibraltar which is given one berth and
- Liechtenstein, which qualifies solely the Cup winners, plus
- 15 losing teams from the third qualifying round of the Champions League,
- 10 losing teams from the fourth qualifying round of the Champions League,
- 8 third place teams from the group stages of the Champions League who enter at the first knockout round of the Europa League…
…cocky, because you’d still be wrong (and pray do tell, what have you done with Brian Phillips?). There still would be the small matter of:
- 3 berths awarded to the top associations in the Fair Play rankings, which has since been abolished and the slots redistribution baffling if only to preserve the complexity of the competition and
- the fourth-placed Champions League eligible team in the case that the UEFA Champions league winner comes from the same association and finishes lower than fourth.
Confused? That’s the intention of the Europa league; the abyss of confoundment seemingly unabating. What does Europa even mean? I mean, there is some clear semantic direction that is required and expected when naming a cup competition. Bringing this home, think of the Top 8 Cup- the knockout cup competition for the top 8 teams in the Kenyan Premier League. In Europe, the UEFA Champions League is the league of Champions- and occasionally Liverpool. The Europa league?
Presently, the Europa league came to be as the brainchild of UEFA’s rebranding in 2009, reincarnating the UEFA Cup. The UEFA Cup which made defunct the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (which in all fairness at least manages to channel that semantic clarity). The UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup which was an amalgamation with the UEFA Intertoto Cup, all of which were preceded by the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. These only lead down the annals of so rich and variant a history that the sense of legacy and clarity from the past is smeared with further bafflement and lost. Kudos though to the team in Lyon, for the beautiful logo and this fete that has to be the echelon of mastery of the deception of advertising.
Perhaps, for what it’s worth, history is lost on us and holding on to the memory of glory days since past, tiresome, which begs ”what really are the stakes in the Europa League?” Certainly, not the glory and all-conquering bliss of dominion over European football, for that we have the Champions League. This season’s finals will be held in Stockholm and feature Manchester United against Ajax. Admittedly, the competition has featured some beautiful football along the way, with the only blot against open, free-flowing, attacking, engulfing, end-to-end play being the leopard-who-cannot-change-his-spots dreary, drab, we-shall-eternally-barely-scrape-through, anti-football antics of Jose Mourinho. Whatever gets the job done, right? However, with an unrelenting, God-like jealous grip on sixth in the English Premier League, you’d understand Mourinho’s pursuit of the UEL trophy: Champions League football in the summer.
Ajax, are guaranteed a Champions League play-off position, because they were runners-up in the Eredivisie, regardless of the outcome in Stockholm; that is unless the UEFA Champions League winner has already qualified for the group stage via finishing in the automatic group stage slots in their leagues. Which would mean first in the Dutch League, congratulations Feyenoord, and more to the point, both Juventus and Real Madrid will win the Serie A and La Liga titles, sparing Ajax the hassle of the playoffs. Trade-up! The Dutch don’t receive a third berth. Manchester United in sixth would receive a playoff berth only by winning the Europa League and by extension the vacant group place as accorded by the true Champions of Europe in either the Spanish or Italian giants. The English team in fourth place remains unfazed by United’s exploits in the level II European football, much like the government remains unperturbed by the plight of the common mwananchi.
Thursday evenings were made for spending some quality time with the missus or letting them be- soap operas and telenovelas. Papa Shirandula et al. Or for hunting down the ones loose in the mingle, especially those in campus or with a proclivity to an aversion of Friday morn hangovers and similar peculiarities. At least for Arsenal fans. Really, what is the cost of the UEL for the greedy, self-serving franchises in Western Europe in whose servitude we find ourselves? Imagine, a Thursday night trip to the armpits of Europe, against a team who’ll probably run you rugged and have pristine instruction to break your best player’s leg (or legs), then Saturday’s early kickoff at the Turf Moor and then a cold windy one at the Britannia for your game in hand, Monday night, before the return leg on Wednesday and then Liverpool getting stuck on you on Friday’s money maker? Also known as Manchester United’s season thus far. Yet, your team wouldn’t earn as much as the other teams in the Champions league. Oh, and teams probably play every week in the Europa League. All this to the end of winning the cup, that no-one could care less about, apart from Sevilla, of course, who also seem to have moved on to the coveting the big boy, big-eared cup. Has all the trappings of a dog chasing its tail. Anyway, the lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did…
In The Other Cup, Brian Phillips proposes the wholesome revision to improve the Europa league as this article endorses. Drawing from the actions of the creoles pre- the Haitian Revolution, the Spaniards of colour pre- the Latin American Revolution and the coloureds of the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Europa League should embrace its treatment as a second-class citizen and do whatever the hell it wants. Fewer, crazier rules. Borrowing from its heritage, the group stages of the Europa league should be abolished, the competition solely and purely knockout- and single stage knockout fixtures at that. Europeans, however, are deeply critical of single stage knockout competitions, especially Nyon, Switzerland because single stage knockouts are presumably too fair, hence bad for business! What if the bigger teams get bamboozled by the smaller sides- where would the opportunity for their saving grace and for saving face abound from? Nowhere? Precisely. Also, fewer games translate to lower revenues.
The sheer madness of a single knockout stage would have a two-fold positive effect on the cup. Firstly, every tie would be, essentially, the final, raising the stakes exponentially, which means more competitiveness, hence more fun. Secondly, more audiences would be tuned in making shillings and sense because nothing draws audiences like the unpredictability. Refer to the American NCAA (Men’s College Basketball), which matches the UEL for revenue with only 64 matches- single elimination and to a smaller market than the global reach of European football. The UEL plays 272 matches just to get to the round of 32. “Less can be more”. Furthermore, more teams plummeting from the Champions League should be given a second chance at European football- including losing teams from the round of 16, so that Sevilla can feel right at home and some big team further humbled by a team who’s just eliminated two bigger teams on the trot. Finally, some of the venues should be moved to more suitable neutral venues, arbitrarily. sparing you and I, the loyal customer, the low visibility images of a fog filled Russian home game in February. All this, however, wouldn’t change that the fact that the Europa League is the lesser league.
Brace yourself Arsenal fans, the Europa League beckons.