Are we glad the Europa League is back?
By Rick Henry
The Europa League made a return tonight with the last 16 left in the competition going for Europe's second best club trophy. The question is, are we really glad it's back?
After Tuesday and Wednesday night with the real glamour of the Champions League and all it has to offer, can and does the Europa League compete and does it even matter?
Manchester United took on Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in an intriguing battle, earning a creditable draw. Whilst it was intriguing, it probably wasn't exhilarating. However, due to Champions League stature, you couldn't take your eyes off it. The same can't be said for the Europa League.
There seems to be a never ending supply of drab and dull games which litter the competition. Tonight was no exception - Tottenham vs Lyon provided three great goals but that's it. There's little buzz and excitement surrounding the competition.
We all know the famous origins of the Champions League and European Cup. A re-branding in 2009 of the UEFA Cup saw the Europa League take its place. Nothing really changed but a poor attempt to make the competition more appealing. With this in mind, do we need the Europa League?
In reality, the Champions League isn't made up of Champions. It suits powerful clubs in England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany and doesn't punish them like other clubs from lesser European leagues for poor season performance. For example, Arsenal haven't finished in the top 2 of English Football since 04-05. However, they've made the Champions League every year since then. Clubs are desperate to get in for lucrative reasons and the prestige of the competition
The Europa League suffers. Teams who strive for Champions League qualification and fail, end up with second best in prestige and finance. This equates to teams in a competition they don't want to be in. This is further exacerbated by the 3rd place finish at the group stage of it's big brother. Champions League teams are literally spoiling the party after Christmas.
However, whilst the football's dull, there is one saving grace. I love seeing small clubs compete on a European level. Clubs that are genuinely happy to be there. You can see how ecstatic the fans are to have a European adventure. I guess and I hope that was why the competition was created in the first place.
That's why we're supporting BATE Borisov - who are they? Sure, they've made the Champions League a few times and are regular champions, but they're a small fish in a big pond at European level. You know there fans will love their tie against Fenerbache and that's really what football is all about - the fans.
So, why not join me in lending a little support to small clubs in Europe?