Europa League a distant memory of the tournament it used to be

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Thursday night football in reality is extremely poor until you get into about March. When you see games advertised like Tottenham Hospur vs Tromso, it's hard to get excited about.

Even when you're sick of watching The One Show or Eastenders, you flick over to ITV 4 to see half empty stadiums in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.

We are really spoilt for choice in today's modern era. With all of the Champions League games on the two nights before, watching clashes like Real Madrid vs Juventus, you can't be bothered to sit and watch the worst of the best teams of the previous season.

It shouldn't be like this. And it once wasn't.

If you look at the history of the previous UEFA Cup, it was a fantastic tournament to win. The European Cup was previously the best of the best. All the continent's league winners all competed in one tournament to be crowned king of Europe. 

Then the UEFA Cup would see the seconds, thirds and fourths (of the top teams) then compete in what was supposedly the 'second string' competition. This was in fact very untrue. If you finish in the top four now, you qualify for the Champions League.

When looking at the first ever UEFA Cup, top sides like Real Madrid, Juventus and Milan took part in the competition. They were back then still the giants of Europe and happy to compete in it.

You can argue it was a stronger competition than the European Cup. This is due to the fact that many teams who had placed in the season before to qualify for the UEFA Cup had bought well in the summer. 

Clubs were in a transitional period where they were quickly improving. In the 1970-71 season, both Real Madrid and Juventus finished fourth in their domestic leagues. However in the next season, in the first ever year of the UEFA Cup, the two clubs went on to capture their domestic league titles. 

Then on, in the next seven years of the competition, all the winners of the UEFA Cup including sides like Liverpool (twice), Feyenoord and PSV Eindoven all too won their domestic titles in the same season. This portrays the class that was in the tournament.

There were a lot better sides in the UEFA Cup than the European Cup a lot of the time. However they deserved to be in the 'second string' competition due to their previous season's efforts.

It was in 1998 that the UEFA Cup started to lose credit. The competition was increased from 24 teams entered to 32. It allowed multi-nation representatives to play in the tournament. Spain had three sides of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao.

The next season Spain, Italy and England all had three again. The newly introudced second qualifying round gave more countries a chance to enter, but it gave Europe's big sides who would normally be in the UEFA Cup a route to get into the Champions League.

This move then left the UEFA Cup's competitors entering to fourth, fifth and sometimes sixth in their domestic league. It gave the competition less prestige as now teams who were almost mid-table could be entered into the tournament.

1999 followed to contribute to the downfall of the now called Europa League. Now a group format for the first round, it saw the top two teams qualify for the last 32 and the team that finished third in the group of four were entered into the UEFA Cup.

Although it made the tournament a bit more competitive, it seemed unfair on the sides first of all in the UEFA Cup. It was another bite at the cherry even though they had already failed. To make matters worse, it slowed the process down and added more games for sides who were competing for the league or now probably to qualify for the Champions League.

It too absorbed the UEFA Cup Winners Cup. This meant whoever won their domestic cup would automatically be entered into the UEFA Cup. Since we've seen some very poor sides be entered into the competition. In 2006, Espanyol who finished 15th in La Liga won their the Copa Del Ray and were entered into the UEFA Cup.

2003 too, Real Zaragoza won the competition and finished 12th in the Spanish league. Most recently we've saw Wigan Athletic who win the FA Cup and be relegated, yet still play in the new Europa Lague.

Although these teams are known, it gave worse sides in poorer leagues the chance too to enter the competition.

The transaction added an extra qualifying stage too. It drained players even more during the long season ahead.

Yet, the UEFA Cup still had decent meanings to it. Parma in the first year of the re-coup carried on tradition by winning the league and the UEFA Cup. When Liverpool won the competition in their 5-4 (aet) thriller with Alavas, they had too won the League Cup and FA Cup. Although the competition was still not quite as good as what it had been 20 years ago, the trophy was still very decent to lift.

The downfall very much occurred in 2009. The UEFA Cup was changed and named the Europa League. Even in the name it just sounds a bit like a 'Mickey Mouse' trophy - much like winning the 'Capital One Cup.'

The group format put into place was the worst thing UEFA could have done for the competition. Now teams would have to play at least six games in the third round to get through.

This works in the Champions League. When you have four top European sides battling it out in a group format it is fantastic. The group of Arsenal, Dortmund, Napoli and Marseille this year really depicts this.

However when you have sides like Pandurii Targu-Jiu and Tromso in your group, it takes the prestige away from the competition. A long lengthy spell watching your team playing League One level sides in many cases for your first six games can make you not want to watch.

Weakened sides are the norm when in the group stages of the Europa League. Tottenham's Jermaine Defoe doesn't get a look into their starting squad in the Premier League, however starts every game in the Europa League, as does Brad Friedel.

It highlights you can very possibly win the competition by playing your fringe player during the early rounds.

The UEFA Respect Fair Play League too is just beyond a joke. I don't understand how you can be eligible to qualify for a European competition on the basis of not getting as many cards as teams above you.

Last year, Chelsea won the Europa League. However the season before they won the Champions League. You just ask Chelsea fans which felt a lot better?

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

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