‘’I do not want to win the Europa League. it would be a big disappointment for me’’ Jose Mourinho, Chelsea, 2013.
This quote from The Special One represents what almost every football fan thinks of the Europa League. Everybody sees it as a non-important title, a title only good for ‘’2nd division top class European teams’’.
One could not be more wrong!
As far as I am concerned, the Europa League is a top competition, a very beautiful and entertaining one. Sure, it does not involve elite clubs very often, but it does involve strong teams that display a very beautiful football.
The Europa League has always shown teams that won the heart of football fans.
The one that hit me the most was Athletic Bilbao back in 2012. The ‘’Bielsa Babes’’ reached the final after having an incredible run in which they topped their group ahead of Paris Saint Germain and knocked out on their way to the final Manchester United, Schalke 04 and Sporting Portugal.
The Europa League has also offered us historic games, such as the dramatic Liverpool-BVB back in 2016. A Europa League game involving ‘’Champions League material’’ teams that entertained football fans all over the world during a ‘’boring Thursday night’’.
The Europa League is also a competition that represents a big opportunity for young talents to do their thing and present themselves to the whole football world.
Likes of Radamel Falcao (Porto 2011, Atletico Madrid 2012) and Joao Felix (Benfica 2019) seized the opportunity that was given to them by playing football on those Thursday nights. Falcao exposed his goal scoring talent to the football world and managed to get himself contracts with big football teams, earning himself the respect of the fans and the fear of the opposing defenders. Had he not played in the Europa League, everybody would have said the only reason he is good is because he plays in a rather average league, the Portuguese one.
While Joao Felix was kicking it in the Portuguese league himself, the day everybody started taking his talent for real was when he scored a hat-trick against Frankfurt back in April 2019.
The Europa League has also turned some players into heroes for their clubs.
Late Antonio Puerta scored the goal that took Sevilla to their first ever Europa League final back in 2006 when he fired a volley in Schalke’s net. Sevilla went on to win the title and created later a friendly tournament in honor of their hero ‘’Trofeo Antonia Puerta’’.
One more Sevilla player that turned himself into a hero was Andrés Palop. His very late header against Shakhtar Donetsk back in 2007 took the game to the penalty kicks. Sevilla went on to win the title later that season.
The Europa League can also be a redemption for some teams. That was the case for Chelsea when they got knocked out of the Champions League group stage right after winning the title the previous season. The Europa League was THE opportunity for the Londoners to regain their people’s trust and the football’s world respect.
Their triumph in the final against Benfica back in 2013 made the people talk more about them becoming back-to-back European champions rather than them being the first Champions League title holders to be knocked out of the group stage.
This also brings us to Manchester United struggling to get themselves a Top-4 position in the Premier League table and not being able to do better than a 6th place. Their only way to play the Champions League next season was to win the Europa League. Basically, Mourinho had to win the title he disliked to most in order the play the competition he loves the most.
The Europa League is underappreciated it and even Jose Mourinho admitted it when he said ‘’This is the most important trophy of my career’’ after winning it with the Red Devils in 2017.
Bibao at Old Trafford: https://as.com/futbol/2012/03/09/mas_futbol/1331278028_850215.html
Liverpool vs Dortmund: https://www.irishtimes.com/sport/the-morning-sports-briefing-1.2611776