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Why Don’t Serie A teams take the Europa League more seriously?

Posted By Mahmoud Ghellai On May 3 2013 @ 4:03 pm In All Sports,Europa League,Lega Calcio,Soccer | No Comments

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The UEFA Champion’s League is one of the world’s most watched and anticipated tournaments, by fans and players alike. Not only does winning the coveted ‘Big Ears’ trophy mean putting your name into club folklore for the players and coaches but it also means large increases in cash revenues from bonuses, gate receipts, etc. A prime example is Chelsea, whom have been tightening their transfer purses, but suddenly after winning last year’s Champion’s League went on a spending spree of over 80 million euros, bringing in the likes of Eden Hazard, Victor Moses, Oscar, amongst other players.

Forgotten in all this is Europe’s second competition, its ‘ugly sister’; the Europa League. Originally called the UEFA Cup, UEFA changed the name two years ago in order to garner more interest into the tournament but almost to no avail. Clubs and players avoid the competition at all costs, while the bigger clubs look to participating in the tournament as a disgrace and more of a nuisance than anything with true prestige worth winning. This is not more evident in any of Europe’s big leagues than the Serie A. No team from Serie A has participated in the Europa League final since 1998-99 when Parma defeated Marseille 3-0 at the Luzhniki Stadium. What is shocking is that in the previous 10 years before this, seven Serie A teams won the UEFA Cup, while five were runner-ups including four finals in which it was an all Serie A affair. In fact the Serie A boasts the most winners (9) and their six runner-ups participants to the Bundesliga’s eight. Also, Juventus and Inter Milan are the have each won three times, tied with Liverpool for the most in the tournament’s history.

So why has Serie A suddenly gone missing? It is not for lack of quality teams in the league with Lazio and Inter Milan participating in this year’s tournament, with also Juventus and AC Milan also taking part in recent years. So if it is not a lack of excellent teams, why is Serie A not excelling in Europe’s second tournament.
The first is that the Champion’s League once used to only consist of only champion’s of each country’s respective leagues. Thus it was extremely difficult to reach the tournament, and the UEFA Cup was regarded as a tournament that consistently had the best teams in the world and therefore the quality of soccer and competition was at an elite level unlike today, with all due respect to the tournament. For example, if in the old format, the Europe League this year would’ve consisted of Barcelona, AC Milan, Napoli, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain. No one in today’s world would’ve missed such mouth-watering clashes.

However in the 1990s, UEFA changed the format to include more teams, along with a group phase and now the top three leagues in the world have as many as four teams participating in the tournament every year while others have from three to one representative in the league. Since this was done, the UEFA Cup gradually started to lose its luster and prestige and slowly its importance started to die in the eyes of the club and players.

It is because of this lose of prestige that Serie A clubs, indeed most of Serie A fans, look at the Europa League with disdain and don’t care much for how their teams fare in the tournament. In fact, at times it appears that fans are relived that the nuisance of Thursday night soccer is no longer on their schedule.

Another main issue is the timing of the tournament. In order to avoid clashing with the big name Champion’s League, the Europa League has games on Thursday nights, which can be difficult for teams and players as some of them will have league games on Fridays and Saturdays, leaving many players with only one day of rest before training in preparations of league games. With the amount of games a player can play a year increasing more and more to sometimes over 60-70 games a year, the risk of injury and fatigue rises exponentially.

Which brings us to another major issue that Serie A clubs and fans have; injuries. Too many times in the Europa League players are getting injured and fans and club hierarchy both appear to feel that the low prestige of the tournament and the consequent jeopardizing of their league hopes is not worth the risk of losing your star players.

To find examples of this thinking, one only needs to look at Tottenham and Inter Milan from this year’s Europa League. Tottenham’s star player and the newly crowned PFA Player of the Year Gareth Bale suffered an ankle injury against Lyon and this in turn threatened Tottenham’s hopes of reaching a top-four spot and the Champion’s League football it represents. Their form has suffered as a immediate result and surely the coach Andre Villas-Boas must be ruing the injury to Bale if they do not reach the Champion’s League next year, especially since it could directly impact Bale’s departure.

Inter Milan has also suffered via a devastating injury of their own in top striker Diego Milito. Although Inter Milan has hit some extreme heights (ending Juventus’ 49-game league unbeaten streak) and some very spectacular lows (dreadful run of form since), Diego Milito was one of the lone shining lights in a campaign full of pain and hope. Scoring nine goals in the 20 appearances in the league, Milito succumbed to a horrific cruciate ligament injury in the Round of 32 matchup against CFR Cluj. This injury typically takes about 6 months to a year to recover from, while some touted that it could be a career-ending injury for the 33-year old. Ever since Inter Milan have suffered offensively and while Rodrigo Palacio has performed honorably in his stead before suffering an injury of his own, they have not been the same team since.

Once all these factors are looked at its not hard to understand why the Europa League is basically non-existent in the eyes of Serie A clubs. However it has impacted the Serie A in a major way, as their terrible results in the Europa League have demoted them into fourth place in the coefficients UEFA ranking, and more importantly removed one Champion’s League spot leaving them at three teams. Therefore perhaps for the sake of the greater good of Serie A, teams should hold the tournament with more prestige but you’d be hard-pressed to find a team willing to take a potential hit for the league.

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