What happens when a bunch of excitable and supremely talented teenagers and young 20-somethings storm to the final before tamely bowing out to Atletico Madrid? The players from Basque get the coverage in the press they deserve, the notion of “playing” football to win gets drummed up, Javi Martinez is talked about as the second coming of John Charles and Iker Muniain is Spain and Barcelona’s answer to Lionel Messi. Either all of that, or the Europa League gets romanticised.
The UEFA Champions League has been Europe’s premier football club competition since its inception. The boffins at UEFA wanted a second-tier competition between European clubs, and thus the lesser competition was born. The ones who weren’t talented enough to be playing in the Champions League but good enough to play in Europe usually ended up playing in the “lesser” of the two competitions. Somewhere along the line, the prize money for participating/winning in the Champions League became huge while the prize money for participating/winning in the “other” competition became pitiable. It was not even a poor cousin. It was something worse than that.
One thing followed another and soon most of the clubs playing in Europe’s “insignificant other” competition started perceiving that losing in “this” competition would be better than just trying to win it. Most managers have been cited as saying “it’s not worth it,” or a rather acerbic “we would much rather preserve our players to play in the League and have a tilt at qualifying for the Champions League.” The thinking behind this principle is rather flawed for one basic reason. If you had a realistic tilt at playing in the Champions League through preserving players, you would be playing in the Champions League in the first place.
Now, I’m not the greatest sympathiser of the UEFA. I would rather discuss the merits of making Sanskrit the universal language instead of talking about Michel Platini’s administration. But UEFA have maintained one thing all along. The cash pot for Europe’s other competition is lesser when compared to the Champions League because of two basic reasons: not enough interest by advertisers and broadcasting rights are sold at a pittance. For them, the other competition is as important as the Champions League.
Why else would they bother allocating almost identical co-efficient points for the winners and runners-up of both competitions? That’s not all. A losing semifinalist in the other competition gets more coefficient points than a round of 16 place in the Champions League. Clubs in England have been notorious for avoiding Europe’s other competition like the plague. Aston Villa, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, Manchester United and Everton have all had decent chances of competing in the other competition in the recent past. Everton made a proper fist of it by losing on penalties to Fiorentina on one particular occasion. Tottenham had a decent chance but lost because of Harry Redknapp’s team selection and Sevilla. Other than that, England and Europe’s other competition have as much difference as class and Arsene Wenger after a defeat. Don’t even get me started on what Martin O’ Neill did with his Aston Villa team in CSKA Moscow.
Italy and Germany
While England won’t have much problems with co-efficients even with their continued approach towards the other competition (their financial clout will ensure that at least two clubs will continually challenge for Champions League honours), Italy have already relinquished their right to put four teams in the Champions League starting from 2012-13 to Germany. How did this happen? While Juventus’s recent non-participation in Europe was a key factor, the teams representing Germany continually outperformed their Italian counterparts in Europe’s other competition.
The above table clearly shows that Germany’s stranglehold over Italy has taken the shape of a large, uncompromising hegemony. So relentless has Germany been in its pursuit of Italy that it hasn’t lost a single co-efficient year in the last five years. And what does consistency like that get you? It not only gives you the right to put four teams in the Champions League as a nation but for clubs like Manchester City it also gives you the right to not face the likes of Bayern Munich in the group stages of the Champions League. Because, clubs are also sufficiently rewarded with co-efficient points depending upon their performances in Europe irrespective in what competition. Let me illustrate this point with an example.
|Year||Tottenham||Arsenal||Atletico Madrid||Man. City|
|2007-2008||16.57 (U.Cup GS)||21.57 (UCL QF)||14.77 (U.Cup R32)||DNP|
|2008-2009||12.00(U.Cup R32)||22.00 (UCL SF)||17.66 (UCL R16)||20.00 (U.Cup QF)|
|2009-2010||DNP||25.58 (UCL QF)||24.58 (U.Cup C)||DNP|
|2010-2011||24.67(UCL QF)||22.67(UCL R16)||9.64 (U.Cup GS)||16.67 (U.Cup R16)|
|2011-2012||10.05(U.Cup GS)||22.05(UCL R16)||34.17 (U.Cup C)||20.05 (U.Cup R32)|
While some of the co-efficient points may be a bit skewed because of bonuses like qualifying bonuses, the picture is quite clear. Teams who reach the quarterfinals or above in the Europa League (the other league) are rewarded with handsome co-efficient points which will come in handy when it comes to picking up pots if the said club qualifies to the Champions League. If Manchester City had won the Europa League twice in the last three years (not an apocalyptic suggestion because of their powers in the capital and the money market), they, like Arsenal, will face the likes of Panathinaikos and/or Anorthosis Famagusta rather than Bayern Munich.
|2007-2008||Four in CL. Four in U.Cup||Two in CL. Five in U.Cup|
|2008-2009||Three in CL. Five in U.Cup||One in CL. Seven in U.Cup|
|2009-2010||Three in CL. Four in U.Cup||Two in CL. Four in U.Cup|
|2010-2011||Three in CL. Four in U.Cup||Three in CL. Three in U.Cup|
|2011-2012||Three in CL. Four in U.Cup||Three in CL. Three in U.Cup|
This table should be shown to all managers who are against the Europa League. Germany have put lesser teams in the Champions League than Italy over the last five years but due to their performances in the Europa League, they have ousted Italy from Europe’s high table. Some of the stats are misleading because the clubs’ final place has been taken into account and not the qualifying place (e.g. If Werder Bremen had entered the Champions League but went onto play the Europa League at some stage, they have been classified as a team that played in the Europa League).
|Year||Italy performances||Germany performances|
|2007-2008||E.Cup QF – One||E.Cup R32 – OneE.Cup R16 – Two
E.Cup QF – One
E.Cup SF – One
|2008-2009||E.Cup R32 – ThreeE.Cup QF – One||E.Cup GS – TwoE.Cup R32 – Two
E.Cup SF – One
E.Cup F – One
|2009-2010||E.Cup GS – TwoE.Cup G32 – One
E.Cup R16 – One
|E.Cup R32 – OneE Cup R16 – One
E. Cup QF – One
E. Cup SF – One
|2010-2011||E.Cup GS – TwoE. Cup R32 – One||E. Cup GS – OneE. Cup R32 – One
E. Cup R16 – One
|2011-2012||E.Cup R32 – OneE.Cup R16 – One||E.Cup QF – Two|
The above table and this one won’t tally but that’s because teams from both nations have lost even before reaching the group stages of the Europa League, which is shocking considering both these teams are inside the top five nations according to co-efficients. Germany’s performances in the Europa League is one of the main reasons for their elevated status in the co-efficients chart. Also, if you take a look at this table and the one immediately above this, the attrition rate for Germany is lesser than that of Italy.
But there exists an argument that teams find the cash pot in the Europa League meagre. UEFA have been bolloxed many times over prize money in the Europa League. Some people have asked the UEFA to take some cash from the Champions League and give it to the Europa League but that’s a no go because if something like that happens, there will be a ‘Super league of clubs’ within the next five years.
What the UEFA could possibly do is to give a Champions League qualification birth from R1 to the defending champions of the Europa League. This could raise other complications but they will have to raise the profile of the competition significantly if people has to buy the idea. At least until they realise the importance of the co-efficients.