For many years now, the Europa League – formerly the UEFA Cup, has been a very flawed competition. The format is dated, too many teams are in it from the start and it serves a purpose as a fall-back option for Champions League teams who fail to cut the mustard. Many teams who qualify for it don’t take it seriously because they know that somewhere along the line, 8 Champions League sides who have failed will drop into it and wipe out a season of hard work – so generally half-ass it.
For me, this has happened personally. Newcastle finished 5th and Qualified for the competition in 2013/14, and despite getting to the Quarter final, were knocked out by Benfica – a Champions League team who finished 3rd in their group and even before the competition has reached the group stage, teams who lose in the final round of Champions League qualifying get into it. The severity of unfairness has led to many preferring not to qualify – and I think it’s something UEFA need to amend.
Here are a list of changes that I think would benefit the competition:
- Reduce number of teams from 48 to 32-40.
- No Champions League teams dropping into it at any stage.
- No link between the Europa or Champions League, bar the winner qualifying for the larger competition.
- 20-24 Nations getting one automatic group spot, with the playoffs/qualifying deciding the other 8-12 teams – possibly sorted by European coefficient
The issues are deep-rooted for a start. There are 12 groups of 4 – that’s 48 teams, and for me – far too many. Add in the 8 who droupout of the Champions League, and even after the 6 group games you are only down to 32. The two competitions need to separate, period. This, in my opinion – will increase the quality of both competitions as all involved will know where they stand. Sevilla have won the competition 3 times in a row, and twice dropped into the smaller competition. Imagine how demoralising this is for teams who have worked their socks off in order to qualify.
I feel a system of 20-24 nations getting a group spot, and the other 8-12 decided by qualifying would work well. It would mean a wide range of teams get a good chance, with the bigger leagues getting no preference. European coefficient, or the top ranking 24 European nations could be a way to sort it, or by the amount of coefficient amounted by each league’s teams. The qualifying process would be shorter, which would stop teams like West Ham having to start their pre-season early as the first round of qualifying is in July!
Making the above changes would improve the quality in my belief – teams would want to be in it, and in the knowledge that a load of teams with budgets 10 times theirs aren’t going to drop down and spoil their campaign, would take it much more seriously – and the same goes for the Champions League, with teams knowing there is no safety net. they may go for points a bit more. Going back to a 32 team format would be beneficial, with many less games each round and the Champions League/Europa League being at the same stage at all times – currently the round of 16 in the former is split over 4 weeks to allow the Europa to catch up.
Allowing the winners a place into the Champions League the following season is something that I think should remain – it offers a great incentive to the eventual winner, and with no-drop downs, they cannot retain it as Sevilla have done – another positive really, as a domination such as Sevilla’s can’t happen again. If the winner has already qualified via the league, then the runner up should take it – effectively the top placed team left who hasn’t already qualified.
The Europa League is a great idea, and is a good competition – but for many years it’s been playing second fiddle to the Champions League and is dictated too much by it. As a standalone tournament, completely separate from it – would be a much better concept. The next round of changes should really look at ideas such as my own, and those that many have been saying for years – because it is in dire need of a revamp, and without it could begin to flutter away into nothing.
The current system only does one thing – punish those who succeed, whilst rewarding those who fail with a second chance.