Europa League – The negative effect of the Thursday trophy

The UEFA Cup, the Thursday trophy, whatever you call it, The Europa League is not the same competition it used to be. A competition that should offer teams a chance to compete with some of the best in Europe, maybe even give a story or two for the fans to talk about, and yet this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Most clubs who qualify play weakened teams and do not offer respect to this once prestigious competition, especially in England. Even with the allure of Champions League football now on offer, it still took a back burner to the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool last season.

 

So why is this? League stature is becoming the predominant feature in English football, with top teams focusing on securing Champions League over everything else, with smaller clubs concentrating on survival. But why? Is it that teams simply cannot find the balance of competing on both fronts? Or is that teams just don’t see the appeal anymore?

It is certainly a topic open for discussion, but with a lot of teams stating the Europa League has a negative effect, is this played out excuse actually true?  Each and every year teams go into Europe with hope and anticipation, but after years of watching, I am starting to notice some very alarming patterns.

Adding some research, it’s clear that teams do seem to underachieve when entering the Europa League. It can’t be a coincidence that both Spurs and Liverpool managed to achieve their dream of Champions League football, during a year they didn’t compete in Europe. Even Swansea and Stoke, two fairly new sides to this level of football, recorded their lowest league finish whilst competing in their one and only Europa campaigns.

Newcastle, after a tremendous season in 2012 under Alan Pardew, finished fifth, just four points off a Champions League spot. The next season they went on to finish 16th, a remarkable downfall.

Maybe not as remarkable as Portsmouth, however. Currently enjoying life in the fourth tier of English football, they had one of their best seasons on record in 2008. They achieved their highest league spot in the Premier League, as well as winning the FA cup, which earned them a spot in the Europa League. But this success was short lived, as they finished the season in 14th spot and a year later, were relegated.

Portsmouth’s financial turmoil may have played the major part in this relegation, but you can make a case that the Europa started this eventual demise, especially with the money they spent that year.

But it’s not just Premier League clubs who are affected; Wigan and Birmingham also suffered at the feet of this seemingly cursed competition. Both relegated after winning a domestic trophy, they sat mid-table until a group stage exit, which propelled them into the play-offs. Both were unsuccessful in said play-offs, but with the form each side produced after their European fairy tales, would it have been beneficial for all involved if they had never even been eligible?

Wigan, a year on, will now play in League One, and Birmingham, who, for not a last minute Paul Caddis equalizer at the end of the 2012/13 season, would have faced the same fate.

 

I used the word ‘cursed’ some paragraphs back, and you may start to get that impression, but there are certainly some more logical conclusions to be heard. Take Hull City, for example, relegated last season on the back of their first season in Europe.

Hull didn’t actually compete in this competition for long, after being eliminated in the qualifying rounds, so it’s hard to argue that a Europa curse took effect. But when you take into consideration the summer planning, the transfer activity and the mindset players would have adopted on the knowledge they would be playing European football, this could have also fueled their downfall.

Teams need a mentality to play in Europe, it’s the reason it took time for Premier League clubs to become a force after the country’s exodus in the late 1980s. The likes of United, Chelsea and Arsenal rarely let their league form suffer, even when competing in the highest standard of football.

This strong mentality has been built from years of experience, something Man City have lacked and more recently Liverpool after their five year absence. It’s not just about the quality of your players, it’s how those players will cope.

Everton for example, looked to push on from fifth spot in the previous season and felt the full force of the Europa league, finishing in a mediocre eleventh. Maybe it’s the trouble of playing Thursday and Sunday that teams cannot seem to handle.

The mentality of one moment playing in places you didn’t know had internet, let alone football and then facing a trip to the always beautiful Stoke.

Look out for Southampton this season. They may be trying to bulk up their squad but with the new territory of playing Thursday and Sunday, I believe it will have a detrimental effect. If you also add another season of losing their top performers, a 40-1 punt on relegation may be a worthwhile bet.

However there is the odd exception. Fulham and Middlesbrough formulated fantastic cup runs in the last decade both losing respectively in the final. Coincidentally both are now playing Championship football, but at the time both prioritized this competition over everything else and were almost rewarded.

You may argue that Fulham featuring in Europa qualifiers before the season started gave them an advantage, as they knew what was in store when the season hit (something for West Ham fans to get excited about this year). But the fact both teams threw all their efforts into the competition meant they were almost successful, something not seen in current times.

 

Now I certainly stand by my previous statements, mentality plays a pivotal role, especially when smaller clubs enter the competition but the major issue for top clubs, is all the chopping and changing to line ups. Instead of teams making eight, nine or even eleven changes before and after Europe, creating uncertainty amongst players, they should only look to make changes when injuries hit or when players are fatigued.

Changes shouldn’t just be made so that a youngster can get his 90 minutes of fame, before being shipped out on loan.

Maybe if they adopted the same approach in both competitions rather than fixating on the league, a trophy could be won. Lets be realistic, It’s not like Everton, Tottenham or Liverpool are ever really going to be relegated, between them, they have spent 154 consecutive years in football’s top flight.

As pointed out in the opening paragraph, there is a lack of respect for this competition, which needs to be addressed. It’s not often I praise Chelsea, but when given the chance a few years back to win the trophy after dropping out of the Champions League, they grabbed at it with both hands, John Terry was of course first.

However, until the day that respect is given to the Europa League, the competition may remain in a state of semi-boycott altogether.

The Author

Mr Blue

Part time betting tipster, turned football blogger. After years of boring my friends and family, I now attempt to bore the world.

One thought on “Europa League – The negative effect of the Thursday trophy

  1. I think you could equally make a case that teams like Swansea, Portsmouth, Everton and Newcastle’s league form suffered not because of their Europa League participation, but just because they’d been found out and what worked in their one successful season didn’t work the next when teams stopped underestimating them.

    You could also point to teams like Liverpool and Spurs (and teams in other countries, like Athletic Bilbao) who competed in the Champions League and found it hard to compete on two fronts, so it’s not just a “Thursday Trophy” thing.

    I’d also take issue with “most teams” playing reserve sides in the competition. Most English sides, certainly, but in more or less every other country the competition is valued.

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