Like so many other Chelsea fans when I saw that Juventus were winning in the Ukraine I felt our crushing victory over FC Nordsjaelland became extremely irrelevant as the reality suddenly dawned, we were in the Europa League. After spending the majority of last season and the start of this season ridiculing Spurs fans for their participation in this competition I feel I may have to trackback and proclaim my desire for us to win this competition.
First and foremost this is a European trophy, something which should not be overlooked at all. Despite being the little brother of the Champions League the Europa League seems to have become even less sought-after since it’s rebranding from the UEFA Cup. It is obvious that English clubs have a total disregard for this trophy given that in the last ten years our only representatives have been in two losing finalists (Fulham and Middlesbrough). It is almost as if the English clubs who have entered in recent years deem themselves of being too good to be in this competition (Spurs and the two Manchester clubs are extremely guilty of this). Unsurprisingly English clubs are normally dumped out unceremoniously except when they take it seriously (see Fulham in 2010) but when you look at the last few winners it’s hard to see why we see it as such a Mickey Mouse trophy. The past five winners of the Europa League have been Atletico Madrid (twice), Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit. Four fairly big players in European football in all honesty (we can vouch for Madrid and Donetsk!) and for English clubs to think they are bigger than some of the teams in it this year is frankly arrogant. Teams like Napoli, Inter Milan, Fenerbache, Bayer Leverkusen, Benfica, Ajax and the aforementioned Atletico are not easy opposition by any means and to win this competition is going to involve some tricky games. For teams like Newcastle, Liverpool, Spurs and even ourselves to consider this a cakewalk, or even ourselves just shows if anything a fear of failure. When the bigger teams have to drop down to the Europa League their pedigree would suggest that they should really be getting to at least the semi-finals, or at least that’s the expectation in England. The reality is this tournament is very difficult to win which is perhaps why teams pretend to not care about it just to avoid potential ridicule for not doing well.
Thanks heavens then for AVB at Spurs who this season has declared on more than one occasion his desire to win the trophy as he cannot understand English fan’s resentment of it. Rafa Benitez looks like he’s going to follow suit and personally I would love the prospect of a London derby in the final. We need to really take a look at the way Iberian clubs approach this tournament and learn from their appreciation of the tournament. Watch the aftermath of last year’s final between Atletico and Bilbao and watch the reactions of both team’s talismans. The tears from Radamel Falcao and Fernando Llorente showcase the utmost joy and despair respectively. They had both fought tooth and nail to get their teams to the final and fought even harder to win the trophy and it’s something you didn’t see from any English clubs that year.
This is why we need to lead and provide England with their first winner since Liverpool since 2001. Champions League winners 2012, Europa League winners 2013, it’s not what we would have wanted at the start of the year but defending the Champions League is next to impossible so personally I wouldn’t turn down another European trophy. Yes the Thursday to Sunday games are annoying and they will take their toll on the squad but we’ve balanced trophies on the go before and there is no reason we cannot do it again. If the worst case scenario was to occur I do not want to finish trophy-less this season so if as fans we’re willing to accept the Capital One Cup surely we can accept the Europa League?