The Europa League takes center stage this and every Thursday matchdays as the competition hugely considered as a side-dish to the Champions League takes yet another stab at trying to win admirers.
Even with UEFA making the competition more desirable for clubs by guaranteeing an automatic Champions League berth for the winners, the competition is still a huge joke in town. Be it because of how far clubs have to travel to honour their matches, how huge the competition is or the fact that matches are played on a Thursday night and screened on some alien local channel, Europa League is struggling to gain recognition as a top-tier club competition.
However, for the 32 teams remaining in the competition, it will be no joke as embark on an at least 9-game journey of adding silverware to their collection. Among them will be three of the most successful clubs in the competition; Liverpool, Sevilla and Inter Milan who have all lifted the title on three previous occasions.
The three will be among the favorites to win the title and perhaps follow in the footsteps of one Spanish club whose success in the competition has scaled them to brushing shoulders with the best in European club football.
Atletico Madrid are now an established Champions League side. They came to within seconds of winning last year’s final against Real Madrid who were only rescued by a Sergio Ramos last minute goal that sent the game to extra time then to penalties which Los Blancos won.
Atletico’s European stability can be attributed to their good run in the Europa League. Before making it to last year’s Champions League final, Diego Simeone’s side won the Europa League twice, in 2010 and 2012 which laid a foundation to their stability both in domestic football and in the Champions League.
Liverpool who dropped to the Europa League after failing to establish themselves above Real Madrid and Basel in the Champions League group stage were a dominant force in Europe in the late 80s and early 70s which can be attributed to their 1973 & 1976 then UEFA Cup triumphs. The Reds also won the 2005 Champions League barely four years after winning the 2001 UEFA Cup.
With competition for the top four which guarantees Champions League qualification at an all-time high in England, Brendan Rodgers’ side will be guaranteed qualification should they add a 4th Europa League to their trophy cabinet.
There’s also the issue of UEFA Coefficient points. The likes of Manchester City, in spite of winning domestic titles, always find themselves landing in tough groups due to low rankings. The Europa League provides clubs with an opportunity to collect more points hence better ranking.
The biggest benefit though is to the young players whose benefit playing against strong teams outside their domestic base cannot be understated.
It may lack the glamorous name, an iconic anthem, top dollar earnings, a prime TV time or the global razzmatazz that the Champions League commands but the Europa League is still a competition worth participating in, and watching.
And That's thesteifmastertake!!