When talk first came about of a third European tournament being introduced by Uefa, it piqued my interest. Sure, logistically, it sounded like a nightmare, but as a Newcastle United fan, the idea of an Intertoto Cup for us smaller sides – but that actually counted for something – was kind of appealing.
Instead, what we’ve now discovered, is that the Uefa Europa League 2 – working title – is effectively a way to stop the larger clubs in Europe being occasionally embarrassed by teams from less well-established federations.
And therefore, in essence, dulling some of the magic that the current Champions League and Europa League provides.
The basic premise is that no additional teams are set to qualify for European competitions under the new tournament structure. Rather, each national federation will keep the same number of qualifying berths, just restructured between the three tournaments – with the overwhelming majority of lower ranked federations’ teams going into the new Europa League 2.
Now, certainly, there are some arguments for that to happen. It slims down the long, and often unnoticed, pre-qualification process the Europa League currently has, and it means the top clubs – who are the most likely to have their matches televised – face other large clubs. In that sense, there is a real commercial benefit to the new structure.
However, as much as the modern game seems to look that way, football shouldn’t just be about the money.
As a fan – and maybe its just because, since my own team is rarely in Europe, I’m always just the neutral viewer – there is nothing more exciting to see than a major upset in Europe.
Think Celtic losing 1-0 to Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps in Brendan Rogers’ first competitive game in charge, or even this season when Luxembourg side F91 Dudelange – who entered in the Champions League’s First Qualifying Stage – made it all the way to the Europa League group stage.
There they faced off against Real Betis, Olympiakos and most notably AC Milan, who during their 5-2 defeat at the San Siro actually came from a goal behind to lead 2-1 and be less than thirty minutes away from a remarkable upset.
Those sorts of games are the true magic of European football, and with the new European system being proposed are going to become scarcer and scarcer.
That’s not to say they won’t occasionally still happen, but given the times when big sides would meet these smaller underdogs in the new model, it will be a lot less frequent than today.
There’s also a real disadvantage commercially for the smaller teams too. Yes, they are likely to be able to advance further into the Europa League 2 on a regular basis than they would in the current Europa League, but as Europe’s third-level competition – and being seen as the throwaway one realistically – there is going to be a lot less opportunities for TV coverage or commercial revenue.
Similarly, with the chance of drawing huge ties to some of Europe’s largest clubs less likely under the new system, the chance of generating significantly boosted revenue that way also decreases.
For fans of these top clubs, it does sometimes seem a farce when they draw a respective minnow and comprehensively beat them, but the money generated from those matches for said smaller sides can actually have a massive impact for years to come. While prize money will likely still be awarded by Uefa for progression through the stages of the Europa League 2, it will likely not be anywhere as significant as the Champions League or Europa League.
It’s a complex task to reshape Europe’s continental club tournaments, and Uefa are being bold in attempting to do so, but there current proposal just seems to miss the mark of what makes European nights quite so exciting.