With the Europa League underway, we’ve already seen a massive shock occur in group A. Feyenoord defeated Manchester United in Holland on Thursday night in a famous 1-0 win. The result was a fair reflection on things as United failed to get out of second gear.
Many fans were wondering why United were so poor and passive. However, manager Jose Mourinho was quick to say before the game about how detrimental the Europa League was to United’s title chances.
Combine this with United’s poor performance and lack of tempo to their play, and it’s not outwith the realms of possibility to suggest that they weren’t even trying to push themselves in the case of injury or fatigue.
If this is true, and United aren’t the first club to behave like this in UEFA’s secondary club competition, then it’s one of the most disrespectful acts seen in football.
It’s a slap in the face of so many people. The league organisers who pay the clubs money to compete in the tournament.
The opposition, who want to test themselves against teams at their level and above. However, the one group of people who get disrespected the most about this tactic is the fans.
Several thousand United supporters went to Holland last night to support their team, and it wasn’t cheap.
It would’ve cost several hundred pounds for the round trip and tickets for the game, with accommodation and food all to be taken into consideration also. All of that, only to see their team not try in case of injury or fatigue.
The supporters are the lifeblood of any football club, and every single time a side goes out to compete in front of them, they should be giving it their all to put on a show for that support.
Football at the end of the day is an entertainment business. Fans turn up to football matches to be entertained by the club they support. The least they should be able to expect is that their team tries their heart out when they go on to pitch.
Players and managers are on such devastating wages nowadays that the minimum expectation from them is to give it their all every time they play a football match. Managers will never come out and say that his players didn’t try during a football game, they have much more sensible ways of telling it.
They’ll either say that the competition isn’t one of their top priorities or that they don’t “want” to be in it. Something along those lines will come out the mouths of managers to protect their players from a bombardment of criticism for not trying.
However, as mentioned earlier, United aren’t the only club to take this approach to the Europa League. Several English sides in the past have played second string sides in the competition and disrespected their opposition. It’s a lesson that needs to be learned by Premier League teams, as other leagues don’t have this problem when it comes to competing.
Roma played a full-strength side in their 1-1 draw at Viktoria Plzen. It may not have been the result or the performance their fans would’ve wanted, but at least they put their full team out and showed the opposition and the competition the respect it deserves. Inter Milan and Zenit all followed suit, showing that this isn’t necessarily a problem around Europe.
Sevilla are another example. One of the top Spanish sides in La Liga who knew they might not get a place in the top four, but always made a fist of it in the Europa League.
Their respect for the competition and their opponents made them three-time consecutive winners of the tournament, and now they’re strutting their stuff in the Champions League consistently.
Yet, it’s becoming fashionable in England to drop your first team and play the second string in the competition. Clubs are starting to believe that only the Premier League is worthy of any effort. The Europa League is simply a distraction to them, and one that should be gotten rid of.
It’s a shame to think back to the former great sides to have won the competition in the past. The UEFA Cup saw many illustrious winners who put all their effort into the game to make a name for themselves in European football.
Everyone remembers the famous Porto team of 2003, and of course the talent-filled Chelsea side of 2013 that won the competition.
It provided both clubs with a springboard of confidence and gave both belief that they could go back and cut it with the cream of Europe in the Champions League. Indeed, Porto went on to win the Champions League just one year later.
What’s even more mind-boggling about this is the prize that’s now on offer in the competition. Winners of the tournament are now guaranteed Champions League qualification into the group stages should they go all the way in the contest.
This should make clubs like United try their best in the tournament in case, heaven forbid, they don’t make the Champions League places in their own domestic league.
The Premier League, for example, has the likes of Man City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, and Liverpool battling at the top. It isn’t inconceivable to think that United could miss out on finishing bottom of this group of teams. It’s unlikely, but not unthinkable.
The tournament gives top sides a second chance at redemption if they fail to qualify, and they should be a lot more grateful than they are for the reprieve.
But if clubs like United don’t care for that, then the least they can do is care for their fans.