March 21, 2013 at 10:18 pm

The Europa League? It Is What You Make It

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Given a choice between being out of Europe, or playing our first XI in the Europa League, I’d choose to not take part every time.

For some fans silverware is everything, but in the modern game its cash that dictates who wins what in a Catch-22 where money is the reward for success, and success is reliant on the ability to buy the best players.

Competitions like the League Cup, Europa League and FA Cup have been massively devalued, largely because they just don’t offer the same financial rewards as the Premier League and Champions League – the only games in town for a club with Liverpool’s history. If winning the Europa League were rewarded with entry to the Champions League – as I think it should be – the competition would be more competitive and some of its prestige would be restored. As it is, it’s just not worth the risk of injury and fatigue to players that comes with competing in an extra, second-rate competition. We need look no further than Spurs’ recent results to see how competing in Europe can and often does impact on a team’s performance in the league.

‘In my day the same eleven played all season week-in, week-out’, I hear the older fans say, but this misses the point. In the past, all teams stuck to the same eleven or so players, so the playing field was level, but as long as there are teams who can rotate without weakening we would disadvantage ourselves by flogging the same eleven players all season in two competitions. We’re not competing with teams of the past; we’re competing with teams today, who have large, rotated squads.

Winning the Europa League could give a team the experience and confidence to leap to the next level, but if winning it means the difference between qualifying for the Champions League or not, the rewards would represent a false economy, and there’s no guarantee we’d win it even if we made it our primary aim.

There is, however, a ‘third way’. If we were to use the Europa League to give young players experience, and to keep more senior players on the fringes match-fit, we could take part without it being harmful to our league campaign. Arguably, having a second eleven comprised of the likes of Sterling, Suso, Coates, Assiadi and Shelvey could even help us in the league. Players who do well would keep the first XI on their toes, and the overall fitness and experience levels of the squad would be improved.

So the question isn’t really one of whether taking part in the Europa League is worth it or not, but how we use it if we qualify.

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