Giving Europa League winners a Champions League spot can revitalise the competition
Published: 09.06.13 / Written by: David Gold
The decision by UEFA to give the winners of the Europa League a spot in the Champions League is a welcome move that can revitalise Europe’s second competition.
The Europa League has lost prestige in recent years to the Champions League, which continues to dominate the football agenda on the continent. Teams in the Europa League are often put off by the gruelling and punishing schedule, taking in up to 19 games. To win the competition takes about half a league season, which is a ridiculous state of affairs.
Adding a place in the Champions League for the winners of the competition should give it a timely and welcome boost. It has been too long coming but the European Clubs Association have pushed for the change for a while, believing it can help to revitalise the competition. It also means there will not be the farcical scenario of a team missing out on the Champions League because a team finishing below them in the league wins the competition. That of course happened last year, when Tottenham finished fourth in the Premier League but Chelsea won Europe’s elite competition to take their place. Under the new rules, both sides would qualify, as the Champions League winner has a place allocated to them from now on.
It is hard to understand why that move took UEFA so long. They knew of this issue back in 2005, when Liverpool made progress in the Champions League and made it to the final, but finished fifth in the Premier League, behind Everton. UEFA insisted the winners of the competition should appear the next season, but Liverpool were not going to qualify because the Premier League insisted, as per their rules, the team finishing fourth would qualify – Everton. In the circumstances UEFA gave Liverpool a place in the qualifying round from the very start with teams from the Faroe Islands, Liechteinstein and other also rans of European football. But why not decide then to give a separate place to the Champions League winner?
Either way this decision from UEFA gives the Europa League a much needed boost. The competition, so devalued over the years by its declining prestige, had no obvious benefit beyond a consolation prize for teams such as Chelsea this year. But was it really a competition that the big teams wanted to win? Too often not. Juventus, AC Milan, Liverpool and other big names have taken part and exited early in recent years. The likes of Fulham, Atletico Madrid, Zenit St Petersburg and others in Europe’s ‘second tier’ are the ones who have taken the competition seriously and won it for the most part.
The Europa League has therefore become a competition for announcing the arrival of teams looking to break into Europe’s elite, rather than for the elite themselves. With a Champions League place at stake, next time there is a Milan giant, or one of England’s big names in the Europa League, they might just focus their efforts mostly on that competition, in the knowledge that they will gain a place in the elite competition at the end of the year. That ultimately is what everyone wants – to be in the Champions League. This will therefore restore the prestige of the Europa League.