Five ways the Europa League can be saved

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Oh Europa League. You may not remember now, but in a past life you were actually an appealing competition to be in. 

There was a time when all three European competitions - The European Cup, the Cup Winner's Cup and the UEFA Cup - could all happily co-exist in near equal relevance. Not any more.

But then, the Champions League came along and swallowed up all the glory, importance and significance.

The Cup Winner's Cup was absorbed into UEFA Cup in an attempt to help both, but Europe's now bloated second tier competition had become about as popular as El Hadji Diouf is, well, anywhere. 

Then UEFA, in their infinite wisdom, decided in 2009 that the best way to solve the problem was a re-brand. I mean, never mind the fact that the actual games were always turgid, dour and un-interesting, everybody loves the word "Europa" and a league that isn't actually a league. It was a sure-fire hit.

In Fulham's run to the 2010 final of the inaugural outing for the Europa League, they had to play, a frankly ridiculous, eighteen games just to get to the final. And that was even after benefiting from entering into the third round of qualifying.

If the Andorran cup winners had their sights set on a tilt at next season's competition, they'd have to play 23 games in total. That's more than the amount of games in they'd have to play in the Andorran league. Probably. 

Which leads nicely, then, to the first way that the Europa League can be salvaged...

1. Fewer games and less teams

Seriously, there too many games. I know the reason that they have all these games is because they want to include as many teams as possible. And even the lesser European lights deserve a fair crack of the whip.

Michele Platini's UEFA is all about inclusion and giving the smaller nations a chance. Fair on paper but nonsense in reality. We are in an era where the team that finishes third place in England gets an automatic place in the "Champions(!)" League before many teams who are actually the champions of smaller leagues.

If Celtic, the Scottish champions, have to play two qualifying rounds just to make the main draw of Europe's premier event, then I'm sure the Europa League could live without the second-place teams from UEFA coefficients 28-53 (except Liechtenstein, for some reason) entering into the second qualifying round. 

And fewer teams will lead to fewer games, and a less bloated tournament overall. Stuff is generally more exciting when there's less of it. It's called anticipation. Last season's Europa League finished on the 15th of May, this season it started on the 2nd of July. No wonder teams don't want to be in it any more.

2. Abolish the group stage

No one should pretend that the Champions League group stage exists for any other reason than for financial gain. The tournament generates a lot of money, therefore the group stage is an evil necessity. 

But it's still dull a lot of the time. One of the main issues with the Europa League is the lack of the financial reward for progression and success, so why insist on a group stage that is dull AND makes no money? At least ramp up the excitement so people want to watch.

Start with knockout rounds from the the off. People love knockout football. There's a reason why casual fans only really start watching it when it starts to gets to the latter stages - knockout football will always be a more interesting watch than Swansea away to St Gallen in Switzerland knowing that a 0-0 draw will be enough to progress.

Also, get rid of seeded teams, and get rid of home and away legs. Make it a random draw entirely from the start. Excitement, excitement, excitement.

3. Stop it from being a consolation tournament

One of the the reasons why the European Cup, the UEFA Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup could happily co-exist for so many years was because they were all individual tournaments in their own right with unique qualifying specifications. Once you got knocked out, you were out of Europe.

Nowadays, it's actually a pretty tricky feat to get knocked out of the Champions League without somehow winding up in the Europa League. It makes the tournament feel like an unwanted, rejected, second-tier affair.

Also, the fact that the best teams get shoehorned in after the group stage, makes the whole competition seem pretty pointless for the first few months. 

It's like Platini saying: "You lot scrap it out for awhile between yourselves, then we'll throw the eight teams in that actually have the best chance of winning the thing."

It makes it all feel a bit cheap.

Teams that lose in the Champions League being thrown into the Europa League make the whole thing feel like the loser's competition. Like in Olympic events when they have the playoffs for 9th-16th after they've been knocked out in the first round of the proper competition. Nobody wants to watch it.

4. And make it more exclusive

In the same way that teams shouldn't be dumped in from above, teams shouldn't be allowed to sneak in from below either.

It's bad enough having the third place teams from UEFA's 33rd-51st ranked coefficients being able to enter, but when losing Cup finalists, seventh-placed teams and fair play winners are suddenly gifted entry, the whole thing becomes completely pointless.

It will all help with the less teams and the less games thing as well. 

5. Move it

Why make it start and run alongside the Champions League the entire time? After Saturday games, Super Sunday, Monday night football and Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday, it's nice to have a little break on a Thursday. Especially if the quality of the games are significantly worse than what's come before it.

If we've abolished the group stage, cut a lot of the teams out of it, got rid of most of the games and made it all a single-leg, unseeded knockout competition, then it can start in January, out of the shadow of the Champions League. 64 teams, six games to the final, seven to win the entire thing. 

Sleek, dynamic, dramatic and it doesn't outstay its welcome. Problem solved. You're welcome, UEFA. 

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