The Europa League's gone through a few incarnations since it first arrived on the scene 60 years ago as the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, but it's hard to imagine that it's ever been as pointless as it is now. Even the added bonus of a Champions League spot for the competition's winners doesn't seem to have done anything to increase interest in Europe's most meaningless competition.
It's come into particularly strong focus in the last few weeks, with Spurs and Southampton appearing to do their absolute best to avoid finishing in a Europa-qualifying position at all costs. Since the start of April, their collective record reads: Played 12, Won 2, Drawn 3, Lost 7. If you're going to insist that such a dramatic drop-off in form is a complete coincidence, then you're probably an idiot or a liar. At best, pretty naive.
The recent addition of the Champions League place for the winners is almost entirely a waste of time - if you're the manager of a team who finished just below the CL spots in your domestic league, are you going to try to qualify through the league next season, or are you going to wreck your league campaign by chasing an unlikely win in a cup competition?
The Europa League is broken, largely irrelevant, and actually a hindrance to a whole bunch of the teams in it. It can't carry on like this.
Let's propose a solution, then. It's fairly simple. Allow teams to opt out of the Europa League. It allows clubs to go hard in their domestic leagues without having to worry about being lumbered with four months of pointless Thursday night fixtures that knacker their squad, but it lets the clubs who want to be involved stay in it.
I wonder if other countries see the Europa League as the inconvenience with which it's viewed in England. Chelsea won it in 2013, having dropped into the competition from the Champions League group stage, but the last English team to win having qualified from their league position was Liverpool back in 2001. Sevilla alone have won the competition three times since then. Six of the last eleven titles have gone to Spain, with the rest being distributed around Portugal and Eastern Europe.
It could be that La Liga has a great deal more strength in depth than the Premier League, with their 5th-7th placed teams just completely outperforming everybody else's, or - more likely - it's a shift in attitude. They actually seem to want to win the competition that they're entered into. Weird, huh?
It's another reason that the opt-out Europa League would prosper. There are clearly a lot of teams who would love to be involved and the competition would be much better if it consistently saw teams playing their strongest lineups, going full-out to win, rather than the current situation, which sees clubs regularly fielding B-teams with little regard for the result of the match.
I'll be honest - I quite like the idea of the Europa League. Football on a Thursday night, when nothing else is happening? Sign me up! I'm aware that I'm something of a football tragic (what do you mean other people don't write 800 words about the problems with the Europa League?!), but surely the chance to watch more football - with BT Sport promising to air a number of games for free, even to non-subscribers - is something that a reasonable number of people should be jumping at?
There could be some flaws in the plan. If everybody in the Premier League decided they didn't want to get involved, would we end up entering Burnley, QPR and Bournemouth? How far can you drop the places before you start to seriously devalue the competition?
These are more 'cross that bridge if we come to it' questions, though. Chances are, there are enough teams in the Premier League willing to get involved in European competition and the same can almost certainly be said of other leagues (granted, I don't know much about the internal views and politics of the teams playing in the Andorran leagues).
A more competitive Europa League benefits everybody in the long run. Fans get to watch genuinely hard-fought games, teams get a chance to play in a competition that they actually want to win, and the stock of the competition rises. Maybe, after a little while of this system, the Europa League begins to matter again, and teams stop opting out and start giving it a proper go again.
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