UEFA Cup’s Delusions of GrandeurBy: The Offside | July 7th, 2008
In an attempt to get out of the shadow of their much smarter, more handsome and successful older brother, the Champions League, the UEFA Cup will overgo a minor appearance change to get some goddamn attention. So they’re going to emulate the older brother and adopt the Champions League’s group stage of 4 teams, each playing one another home and away, as opposed to their 5 teams 5 games setup of yore. The more obvious change for the fans will be their name change proposal, hoping for a new UEFA Europa League.
‘The hope is that a refreshment of the name and brand can help achieve better results than we’ve seen in the UEFA Cup in the past,’ Rummenigge later told a media conference at UEFA’s Swiss headquarters.
‘There has been a general impression that it has become a second-class competition and that we should get back to how it was ten or 15 years ago.’
This is a noble move and it would obviously be wonderful to have two Champions League type competitions running simultaneously, leaving us with an embarrassment of viewing options every day of the week from September to May. However, you quite simply cannot up the quality of the tournament without upping the quality of the participants. Teams like Sampdoria, Racing Santander and Man City are nice and all, but they’re not Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
The purists will stay, and they’ll appreciate the unique looks brought from various UEFA Cup teams, allowing the financially modest to realistically compete for a European title. But most fans want to see names. They want to see Lionel Messi, Fernando Torres and Francesco Totti. They also want to see teams with history like Manchester United and Barcelona take part, because those clubs have an aura about them. It’s that aura which brings people in, specifically the fringe fans. And there is a certain fear when one’s team has drawn “Barcelona”. Not so much when they’ve drawn Everton.
And thus the revenue. People will pay more to see the Champions League than they ever will for the UEFA Cup, regardless of the name. The money in football is not the same as it was 10 or 15 years ago and as ever, the gap is widening.
The UEFA Cup is the second competition and it shouldn’t try to be something it isn’t. Glorify the underdogs, the minnows like Getafe who have no business competing for continental glory, and embrace being the “tournament for the little people”. The UEFA Cup can aspire to be a five star dish with a new fancy name, but a new name can’t change the ingredients.