When Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis' called the Europa League "a complete waste of time", was the Italian bluntly expressing a view which has been growing for a long while now- what is the point of the Europa League?
De Laurentiis and Napoli have tumbled out of the Champions League after finishing third in their group behind Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund. The Italian side failed to progress to the last 16 of the Champions League on goal difference, as the three sides were tied on 12 points each.
Napoli manager Rafa Benitez will spend another season competing for Europe's second prize after winning the competition with Chelsea last May. It was the second time Benitez had won the trophy after achieving success with Valencia in 2004.
The Italian club are right to feel aggrieved for not progressing in Europe's elite competition as four wins from six matches would normally be enough to make the last 16. This season Zenit Saint Petersburg qualified with just six points.
But the Serie A side are sent into the last 32 of the Europa League and as De Laurentiis pointed out, the competition can sometimes be a hindrance rather than an opportunity.
SimilarIy, The Times chief football reporter Oliver Kay tweeted from the post-match press conference: "Napoli president De Laurentiis: You know my thoughts on the Europa League. I think it's a complete waste of time."
Although clubs have rarely admitted to disliking the Europa League- after all it is a European trophy- for some clubs it can seriously affect their performance in other competitions.
As a result, teams tend to rotate and give fringe players opportunities to play rather than their strongest XI.
There is justification for this move. Depending where a club enters the competition they will have to play a huge amount of matches before reaching the final.
In the 2009/10 season Fulham played 18 Europa League ties before reaching the final. That amount of games added to a regular season will stretch all resources and tire players.
Last season playing in the Europa League took Newcastle from battling for a Champions League spot to a relegation scrap because the Magpies struggled with the extra matches.
Clubs tend to face a dilemma between pursuing their European ambitions whilst trying to maintain their form in domestic competitions. As the financial and long term benefits are in the league, clubs will almost always favour their domestic duties.
Even if a club is fortunate enough to win the Europa League the reward is tiny. Chelsea recouped approximately €10million for winning the Europa League compared to approximately €50million for their Champions lLague success 12 months earlier.
Another frequent complaint about the tournament is its structure. Clubs argue too many teams qualify the tournament which dilutes the quality and throws up plenty of dull fixtures.
Anzhi Makhachkala currently sit bottom of the Russian Premier League but have been able to qualify for the round of 32 of the Europa league ahead of Moldovan outfit FC Sheriff and Norwegians Tromso.
The Europa League might be used to give more clubs from different countries an opportunity for European football but if the clubs are so poor it makes the exercise pointless.
This is compounded when eight Champions League competitors find themselves in the Europa league, like Napoli. Any smaller clubs who were able to progress from their group are almost certainly going to be destroyed by the Champions League teams.
As a result, Europe's '2nd prize' offers little to the bigger clubs and is unattainable to many of the smaller teams.
So what is it really for? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.
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