Football

When did English clubs stop taking the Europa League seriously?

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The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. The UEFA Cup. The UEFA Europa League. Whatever name it may now take, this competition has become deeply underappreciated in England in recent years.

Chelsea may be the current champions, but they are the only English winners since the Europa League rebranding. The Fairs Cup had four, the UEFA Cup six.

In fact, since the Champions League's induction in 1992, victory in Europe's secondary club competition has only been tasted twice by sides from England - both under the tutelage of foreign managers.

Three other managers have guided English clubs to finals in that time: Arsene Wenger - who had worked in France and Japan, Steve McClaren - who would go on to manage Dutch and German sides, and Roy Hodgson - whose career had previously spanned Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, the United Arab Emirates, Norway and Finland.

Managers who have worked abroad just appear to have a better understanding of a tournament that still holds a big draw on the Continent. A draw that is evidenced by the clubs that remain in the Europa League.

The final four of this year's competition are Juventus, Benfica, Sevilla and Valencia. These are huge clubs. In fact, between them they can boast 157 major honours - just 35 fewer than the Champions League quartet of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea.

It's also worth noting that all four semi-finalists of Europe's elite club competition have won the Europa League or one of its predecessors.

Unfortunately though, in recent years Premier League managers just haven't considered the competition worth their effort.

In 2011, Stoke City's FA Cup run saw them qualify for Europe for only the third time - an exciting year for the club. By the time they crashed out to Valencia in the second round though, manager Tony Pulis was resting players to save them for domestic competitions.

The former Plymouth Argyle boss made eight changes from a strong side that had faced Crawley Town the previous Sunday, and only named four substitutes.

A year later, Newcastle United progressed as far as the quarter-finals before finding themselves unfortunate to be knocked out by Benfica. As the Magpies faltered in the league though, Alan Pardew blamed the club's participation in the Europa League, and even offered that explanation for Swansea City's struggles this season.

When Tim Sherwood took over as Tottenham Hotspur manager, the club had won every group game and were through to the knock-out stages. Following a lucky escape against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Spurs faced Benfica. Finding themselves 3-1 down after the first leg though, Sherwood changed a significant portion of his side and named a ludicrously inexperienced bench. His charges could only manage a 2-2 draw and exited the competition.

Tottenham presumably took this approach in order to focus on the Premier League, where they will do no more than qualify for the Europa League again. So why do they do it?

The simple answer of course is money. England’s top division offers massive financial reward, whereas UEFA’s tournament does not.

Last season, each Premier League place was worth around £750,000 more than the one below it, with champions Manchester United earning £15 million in prize money alone. To put that into context, the winners of the Europa League take just £4.1 million, after minimal rewards throughout the tournament.

Therefore, it is promising that UEFA are introducing a rule that sees the winners also take a place in the following season’s Champions League, where the prize money is more than doubled.

It’s disappointing that these things come down to finance, but equally not surprising. In England, even domestic cups have been cast aside in recent years for teams to focus their attentions on finishing higher up the league table.

Where the strategy that foreign coaches bring to England is to use player sales and clever investment to create both money and success, there is a tendency among home-grown coaches to rely on the funds provided by simply staying in the top division.

Bill Nicholson, Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Sir Bobby Robson and other famous names of English football have seen success in this competition in the past. It’s about time that someone else gave it a go.

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Topics:
Tottenham Hotspur
Newcastle United
Football
Europa League
Stoke City

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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