As Sevilla romped to a resounding 3-0 victory over Fiorentina amid the absorbing furore of a Europa League semi-final clash at the Sanchez Pizjuan, Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend ruminated over the qualities of Colombian goal-hunter Carlos Bacca.
Ignoring or forgetting that every Premier League representative had bitten the Europa League dust by the round of 16, they asked if Bacca had what it took to make it in English football’s top tier.
It was a strange discussion to have; a mere glance around the pitch that evening would have reinforced the point that Premier League performance is by no means a holistic barometer of success.
Daniel Carrico, who was in the Sevilla team that evening, failed to impress in England during a short spell with Reading, having joined the club from Sporting Lisbon in early 2013. He lasted just 45 minutes in central midfield on his debut before being substituted. Following the arrival of Nigel Adkins as manager he made two more appearances from the bench before departing for Sevilla on an initial loan deal.
Carrico was joined in that short-term move to Andalusia by Cameroonian defensive midfielder Stephane M’Bia, who had struggled to make an impact during a season-long stint in the Premier League with Queens Park Rangers.
While each of their former clubs toiled in search of a playoff place in the English Championship, together this unfashionable duet formed a shield in front of Sevilla’s defence as they won the Europa League last season. M’Bia was so good – he scored twice in the semi-final matches against Valencia – he made it into the competition’s 2014 team of the season.
Both men joined Sevilla permanently following their loan spells and will play vital roles tonight as Sevilla compete for a second consecutive Europa League success, Carrico having dropped back into central defence and M’Bia once again sitting in front of the backline.
It was in these positions that they formed part of Sevilla’s counterattacking masterclass in the home leg of their semi-final against Fiorentina, where they lined up against several other former Premier League players; that Viola team featured Stefan Savic, Marcos Alonso, Borja Valero and Mohamed Salah.
At the tender age of 21, Savic was deemed a flop after some nervy displays for Manchester City and sent packing, making his way to Firenze with Matija Nastasic going in the other direction. Alonso never quite made the grade in the Premier League, flourishing at Bolton only after their relegation to the Championship, before spending six months on loan at Sunderland last season.
Valero, a diminutive midfielder, didn’t get to grips with the physicality of English football’s top tier and left West Brom one year after he had arrived at the club. He would eventually go on to receive a Spain cap for his work in La Liga with Villareal.
Salah is currently on loan at Fiorentina from Chelsea, and he has been in sensational form since leaving London in January. The Egyptian winger was integral to Fiorentina’s disposal of Tottenham in the round of 32, scoring the goal that clinched a 2-0 win in the second leg to seal the North London side’s fate.
Salah isn’t the only former Chelsea reserve to show his full potential in the Europa League with another team; Kevin De Bruyne notched five goals and five assists throughout this season’s competition with Wolfsburg, aiding the German club to the quarter finals where they were eventually blitzed by Napoli.
It’s a wonder that these players all failed to truly register a mark on the Premier League, especially given the talent they have exhibited since moving on, with the Europa League acting as a platform for their quality.
It’s all the more remarkable when considering how ineffective Premier League teams, as a general whole, were in asserting themselves upon Europe’s secondary club competition: Liverpool joined Tottenham in exiting in the round of 32, while Everton were dismissed one round later.
Such disappointments have been shrugged off, however, with the Europa League’s real worth to Premier League teams coming under scrutiny of late. Swansea captain Ashley Williams even suggested he was mildly relieved not to be taking part in the competition next season after his team’s eighth-place finish, saying “I’d prefer to concentrate on the league”.
The idea seems to be that victory in the Europa League could only be a pyrrhic one, though tell that to the likes of Sevilla and Fiorentina, both of whom went deep into its latter stages whilst also competing for a top six spot domestically, rendering the notion that Premier League entrants will be too tired from their midweek exertions invalid.
All things considered the nonchalant devaluation of the Europa League seems like a convenient excuse used to mask the reality of disappointing early exits. The comparative financial advantage the Premier League holds over rival European leagues has not told in the Europa League this season while, by contrast, many of English football’s cast-offs have enjoyed prolonged European adventures.
For all the money spent, the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton were not capable of building a team in the same manner that Unai Emery and Vincenzo Montella did with Sevilla and Fiorentina respectively. It’s a tale of woe with the predominant theme being inefficiency.
Going back to Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend’s aforementioned discussion, perhaps they shouldn’t have been asking if Carlos Bacca would be good enough for the Premier League, but if the Premier League could get the best out of Carlos Bacca.