Europa League final between Sevilla and Dnipro has plenty of intrigue
The Europa League is unloved by many. Judging by the attitude of certain English clubs towards the end of the Premier League season, it is a competition some would prefer to avoid.
However, Europe's secondary continental competition can make reputations for managers. Andre Villas-Boas made his splash in 2011 when winning Dublin's final with Porto crowned a Treble. Consider Rafa Benitez's determination to win the competition with Napoli to follow his 2013 victory with Chelsea. He did not achieve that aim, but Real Madrid now likely beckons.
Winning the competition now carries a Champions League group-stage place for the overall victor, something which Roberto Martinez at Everton undoubtedly had in mind when he sacrificed much of his team's Premier League season in pushing towards the final in Warsaw. Also, within the powerful European Clubs' Association cartel, there are discussions of raising Europa League prize money closer towards Champions League revenue. Meanwhile, there will be much to look for in Wednesday's final between Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Sevilla in Poland.
1. Sevilla on brink of history
Spanish football's dominance of European football is confirmed by its second-tier clubs' performances over the last decade in the Europa League, and the UEFA Cup before that.
While Real Madrid and Barcelona harvest the television revenue and have won nine from 10 Liga titles, the sun-drenched southern city of Seville has quietly become home to a significant force in European football. Should they win in Warsaw, Sevilla will become the first club to win the competition -- in any of its guises -- four times, to jump ahead of Liverpool, Internazionale and Juventus. They can also become the first club ever to retain it twice. Real Madrid, in 1985 and 1986, are the only other club to have won it in consecutive years.
Sevilla won the UEFA Cup in 2006 and 2007 under Juande Ramos, a coach remembered otherwise for a mediocre spell at Tottenham.
Unai Emery, once of Valencia, who masterminded last year's defeat of Benfica in Turin and can emulate his predecessor on Wednesday, has become one of the names linked with the vacancy at West Ham, though a chance to play in the Champions League with Sevilla should keep him from heading to East London. He has also been linked with AC Milan. Despite a 3-2 weekend defeat of Malaga, Sevilla were denied fourth place in La Liga by Valencia's comeback at Almeria.
Arsenal fans will undoubtedly recognise one of Sevilla's weekend scorers. Jose Antonio Reyes was an "Invincible" with the Gunners after the 2003-04 season, the first Spaniard to win an English title. At 31, he is back at the club where he made his name. The teenage winger once among Europe's hottest properties is now a veteran maverick.
2. Dnipro flying the flag
The final being hosted in Warsaw conjures memories of Euro 2012, the tournament Poland shared with neighbouring Ukraine. While Poland's National Stadium remains one of Europe's finest, pictures of its equivalents across the border supply chilling imagery, a sad by-product of a country wracked by civil war in the eastern Donbass region.
Pictures of Donetsk's international airport then and now appeared in Tuesday's U.K. newspapers. The modern, high-tech terminal where fans flew in 2012 is now little more than a pile of twisted metal. Shakhtar, Ukraine's previous winners of the competition in 2008, now play in Lviv, near the Polish border, rather than in their home region, occupied by Russian separatists. Their Donbass Arena has been repeatedly hit by missiles.
Dnipropetrovsk is barely 150 miles from that theatre of war, so Dnipro have had to play their own fixtures in Kiev's national stadium, 243 miles to the northwest. They will have played all 19 matches of their European campaign away from home -- half a Premier League season. Many of their fans will miss the biggest day in the club's history, unable to afford travel to Poland from a country brought to its economic knees.
"We've helped those people for whom it's hard financially," said captain Ruslan Rotan on Tuesday during the pre-match news conferences. "We've given them gifts to make sure they can get here, but you can't help everybody."
The civil war was an unavoidable issue on the eve of the match.
"What is happening in the Donbass is not good for my country," Rotan's midfield colleague Valeriy Fedorchuk said. "We have always believed we are big friends with Russia. Tomorrow, we will play for Ukraine because we represent our country."
3. Konoplyanka the wanted man
Back in January 2014, Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre set off a mission of mercy to Dnipropetrovsk. His aim was to secure the services of one of Europe's most coveted players, the brightest star in Ukrainian football.
Perhaps with Yevhen Konoplyanka in the team, Liverpool might have won the league title they lost in the season's dying embers. Ayre, accompanied by a club doctor and Liverpool's chief scout, spent much of his two days in Ukraine waiting to speak to Dnipro president Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who eventually refused to sign the contract.
Kolomoyskyi, a banking magnate rated by Forbes in 2011 as the 377th richest person on the planet, was prepared to let Konoplyanka run out his contract rather than cash in his club's best asset.
A fast-raiding player who starts from the left side before making rapid surges infield onto a powerful right foot, Konoplyanka becomes a free agent this summer. Tottenham were another club interested last year, and Everton were linked with a cheap steal in January 2015, but instead, the 25-year-old stayed on to play his part in Dnipro's run past the likes of Ajax, Olympiakos and Napoli.
In a match where Sevilla are expected to dominate possession, Dnipro's hopes perhaps lie in the counterattack, which is where Konoplyanka comes in. His battle with Sevilla's sparkling full-back Coke is sure to be a feature of the evening. The three-time Ukrainian player of the year, a black belt in karate, has the chance to show his chops to the rest of Europe and perhaps win a highly lucrative move.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.