A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a colleague how I felt about the game against NK Maribor that night. To be honest, and for the first time I can remember, I was non-plussed about the result. Perhaps, at the time, this made me a philistine to the deep rooted beliefs that some feel every Spurs fan should possess. Of course, I want to see Spurs win every game they play, and I never actively want to see them lose, but in this Europa League game, I felt as though I couldn’t care less.
My colleague was barely surprised as my attitude towards the completion, as a neutral or a Spurs fan, has always been a tad negative. I don’t care for it as it created a fixture pile up in season’s past, and haven’t seen a competitive team played in an important Europa League game since the days of Martin Jol, when it was named the UEFA Cup. That and the fact that, as a huge Jol lover, the competition seemed to lose it glamour on the night Jol was sacked half way through a ‘Thursday Night Channel 5’ encounter with Getafe CF.
However, it got me thinking. Just why is it that, like me, a lot of supporters of Spurs, and I’m sure other clubs, feel this competition is beneath them. Is for the reasons I have laid out, or perhaps because they feel it is not eminently winnable. After taking some time to think about it (and of course, as every geek does, researching points on the web to back up my arguments) my mind began to change. And now, here I am, either re-affirming your belief that this is a great competition, or perhaps swaying your opinion.
When you read and listen to football writers and pundits discussing the varied pros and cons surrounding the Europa League, one of the most common clichés spouted out is that the fixture congestion that is caused late in the season is detrimental to the team’s fitness and conditioning, as well as mentality, which will ultimately be reflected in a deterioration in their league form. That just isn’t true.
Let’s take, for example, the 12 clubs that have made up the semi-finals of the Europa League since its re-branding in the 2009/10 season, and as parameters, I have taken the league position the teams were in after the final Group Game in the tournament (the point we are at now), and the position in which they finished (see below for Excel representation)*.
As you can see, two time winners of the competition Atletico Madrid have actually seen their league form enhanced. They have climbed the table dramatically over the second half of the season in a league that is, one would suggest, as competitive as our own. Of course, for every success story, there is the opposite, and as demonstrated, it is actually a majority of teams that have suffered slightly. The average differential is actually positive, and all three winners have either progressed or, as exemplified by the Villas-Boas-led FC Porto in 2010/11, they remain stable.
AVB is unlikely to lead us to the league title this year (although there is always hope), but I believe this identifies that for every team that suffers through their Europa League advancement, others don’t. From that group of teams, we are perhaps most comparable to Valencia or Sporting CP, two teams that barely suffered only last year.
Of course, that is one of many arguments some have against the competition, and at this juncture, some would point out that unlike Atl Madrid and Porto before us, we lack Radamel Falcao. Whilst this is true, we possess an in-form striker of our own, a world class winger, and a manager so passionate about every game, that losing is as painful for him as it is us.
The first few months of Andre Villas-Boas’ tenure at Spurs have been a rough ride if you listen to the media, and whilst some poor, typical Tottenham, losses have seen us drop point unnecessarily, our recent run of form is a snapshot of what the future holds.
To implement a system takes time, and success on the continent is traditional to AVB. Ignoring his brief stint as British Virgin Islands manager (which I assume he also does), AVB has coached clubs to two Champions League titles (as assistant at Porto in 2004, and Inter in 2010), two Europa League titles (as assistant at Porto in 2003, as manager of Porto in 2011), and not forgetting that he manager that lot in west London for the majority of last year, in which they somehow got their hands on Big Ears. He laid the foundations of a team at Academica (who have since qualified for their first continental competition), and is clearly passionate about the tournament.
Success in itself breeds further success, and that rings true at any level and in any range. A single win lifts confidence, and that in turn improves performances, breeding more wins. Whomever we are drawn against next week are unlikely to be favourites to advance, because as we all know, White Hart Lane can be a fortress, especially on European nights. Of course, that has, at times, lacked in recent years, but with progression in such tournaments, the atmosphere increases, not to mention the magnificent effort of those who organise the 1882 spectacles. Having spoken to a regular Park Lane attendee, he confirmed that the atmosphere at the Maribor home game was better than any European night since our Champions League season, and why can’t that be replicated?
From a more linear point of view, we have finished in a Champions League qualifying spot in two of the past three seasons, and have a great chance to reach the zenith of European football again this season, and our performance in this season’s Europa League could affect us in next year’s Champions League.
We currently sit 30th in amongst the Member Rankings of UEFA^, and reaching the latter stages of the competition would see our co-efficient increase greatly. We are currently sitting on just over 10 points for this season, and a semi final appearance could see the addition of a further 8 points. Manchester City fell foul of poor Europa League performance last season by being drawn into their Champions League group from the third pot, thus seeing them face Real Madrid and Dortmund. Our current position would likely see us drawn from the fourth pot, so simple logic states the further we advance this season, the more likely we are to avoid that ‘fate’ next season.
Now, at this point, I could mention that the further we get in Europe, the greater our global recognition is. About this, I am sure the club big wigs are bothered, yet, whether I see a Spurs shirt in Outer Mongolia isn’t a personal priority, yet success is.
As the great Bill Nicholson OBE said ‘…we at Spurs have set our sights high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory.’ This is, of course, perennially apt of Tottenham Hotspur, and if we continue in any completion without the desire of winning it, then we have lost that sense.
I am a Spurs fan for many reasons, but topping the list is that come what may, I know that the club has the potential to be great, and as one we strive for that greatness through hope and anticipation, and whether that ultimate goal is reached or not, we know that the journey has been so magnificent, the atmosphere so ferocious, the longing so deep, that when this club reaches the pinnacle of success, we can feed from it like no others.
We should we want to advance in the Europa League? For one reason, and one reason only, we are Tottenham Hotspur, and it’s in our blood to be the best that we can possibly be.