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The UEFA no-hoper League

The UEFA Europa League? Is that really the best UEFA could come up with?

Perhaps the new name for the UEFA Cup is factually accurate - after all it is in Europe and the competition has become a league of sorts - but why throw away almost 40 years of heritage and goodwill?

The UEFA Cup has had its critics and was undoubtedly in need of a revamp, but Friday's unnecessary rebranding and reorganisation of a competition which had it's inaugural season in 1971 has taken the event further from its roots and all that made it unique and interesting.

In moving to bring the former UEFA Cup in line with the Champions League all European football's governing body will achieve is to illustrate that the Europa League is simply a pale imitation of its more illustrious big brother.

Surely the way to reinvigorate the UEFA Cup is to accentuate its differences from the Champions League not emphasis its status as a poor relation?

The event started as a straight knockout competition and so it should have remained. It should be a competition in which every game counts and where the stakes are high thus guaranteeing the interest of fans, broadcasters and sponsors alike.

Over recent seasons the UEFA Cup has morphed into a Champions League-lite with the introduction of a tedious group stage designed largely to placate the money-hungry interests of clubs jealous of the riches derived from the Champions League proper.

It's understandable the clubs want money and that UEFA want to serve the clubs' interests to the best of its abilities, but this overhaul of the UEFA Cup feels like a desperate and counterproductive throw of the dice.

UEFA have bulked up an already over-large group stage which will see a 48-team section contested before the tournament properly gets down to business with a 32-team knockout stage, which will include eight teams parachuted in from the Champions League.

And that's the problem - the essence of why the UEFA Cup is regarded as second-rate. As long as teams which fail in the group stage of the Champions League are allowed to drop into the UEFA Cup, sorry, Europa League, so it will devalue all that went before and the event will continue to be perceived as an event for the mediocre.

The UEFA Cup needed streamlining, not growth. It needed to go back to basics, to return to big games of genuine risk from the first round to the last, not a tiresome mini league of European also-rans.

Rather than noting that football fans find the current 40-team group stage boring UEFA have done the opposite of what was required and expanded it and in-so-doing missed their chance to revitalise a much-loved event that has fallen on hard times.


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