O’ Europa League! How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways…..
I loathe thee because our mere presence in your competition demeans us. Our participation is an unwanted statement of what we could potentially become as petro-dollars flood the market. After many long years of a seemingly unbreakable bond with the Champions League we have been cruelly cast aside and find ourselves heartbroken, watching on, enduring our recent adversaries competing for the glory we crave, feeding from the top table of triumph. By contrast we exist in a graveyard of yesterday’s conquerors – Porto, Ajax – and once proud contenders – Lazio, Atletico Madrid, Valencia – condemned to hunt for the feeblest crumbs of success to try and convince ourselves that our latest sojourn into Europe is anything less than a crushing disappointment. Even as a young buck I knew that being entered into the ‘Plate competition’ in the end of season tournament meant we had fallen short. Our participation in Platini’s consolation prize is a stark reminder of our slide down the pecking order of the European elite.
I loathe thee because everything about you is artificial. Fulham played fourteen games in the Europa League before being eliminated after the group stage. A stage before we even enter. Club allegiance apart, this is an incontrovertible disgrace which unquestionably devalues the competition. The basis of any knock out tournament is equality – seeding has already compromised this in almost all contests – yet the parachuting in of teams who came up short serves to highlight the absence of identity in the competition. Should Patrice Evra finish the season by holding the trophy aloft it would represent the hollowest of victories.
I loathe thee because you represent a plethora of missed opportunities. The European Cup is noticeably weaker this season – with only the Spanish giants representing insurmountable obstacles were we to be drawn against them. A combination of youthful folly and managerial miscalculation has deprived us of the potential to travel far in the pursuit of the greatest glory. To further rub salt in the wound, rather than embrace the opportunity to challenge our young prospects to test their mettle on the European stage it seems our side will contain an uninspiring mix of the same group who laboured to ignominy in the real competition. A team showcasing the talents of Fryers, Cole, Pogba and Keane would stimulate the senses; yet if speculation is to be believed such a spectacle will not be forthcoming.
I loathe thee because you threaten our pursuit of the greatest prize. As we doggedly pursue our neighbours, maintaining them in our sights, it is essential we have our full arsenal available if we are to shoot them down and claim our twentieth scalp. In effect we are one mistimed challenge, one collision, one inelegant impact away from disaster. An injury to Rooney, Carrick, or Valencia gained on or as a result of Thursday night duty would leave us facing the crack of doom. We are fortune’s fool.
I loathe thee because you expose my hypocrisy. As I write this diatribe, unleashing vitriolic bile in the direction of such a base contest I know full well that come six o’clock I will be watching on. To follow blindly is an imbecilic endeavour yet despite my better judgment it is one from which I cannot break – and that is where madness lies.