europa

20.06.2009

“It’s magnificent to be in Europe, and this club - a club like Tottenham Hotspur - if we’re not in Europe, we’re nothing.  We’re nothing.”

Bill Nicholson certainly set the bar high for Tottenham, and why shouldn’t he ?  In his 16 years in charge of the club, Bill managed to guide Spurs into European competition on eight occasions, in an era when you either had to win the league title or a trophy in order to qualify.  Today, seven English teams have the chance of competing in Europe every season, four in the Champions League and three in the UEFA Cup (Europa League).  Like Nicholson said, a club like Tottenham needs to be in Europe every season, and that aspiration should be greater today with so many places up for grabs.  Spurs have a good record in Europe, being the third most successful English club in European finals, the first British club to win a European trophy (the Cup-Winner’s Cup in 1963), and the first to win two different European trophies (the UEFA Cup 1972).  We are a big club.  With our resources, Europa League qualification should be the minimum objective for each campaign.

I was disappointed to miss out on Europe this season, although I think that I am in the minority.  I was surprised when so many other supporters said that Spurs would be better off out of Europe, as it would mean one less distraction from out tilt towards the Champions League and major domestic silverware.  I can understand that argument to a certain extent, particularly after the season we’ve endured.  Nevertheless, I believe that it would be better for Spurs to be in the Europa League rather than not.

Playing in Europe gives a club greater prestige, and it provides them with an extra chance of landing some silverware.  Just because Spurs can’t get into the Champions League we shouldn’t turn our noses up at the Europe League, even if it is not held in as high regard as it used to be.  Obviously I would prefer that we were in contention for the Champions League every year, but at the moment that just isn’t feasible.

It’s a flawed argument to say that Spurs doesn’t need the distraction of Europa League football.  We all want Spurs to play in the Champion’s League and to be in contention for the big trophies every season.  In order to win the Champions League, a team would have to play a similar number of games needed to win the Europa League.  Therefore, if Spurs can’t cope with the ‘distraction’ of playing in the Europa League, how would Spurs hack playing in the Champion’s League ?

Sometimes European games can provide a welcome distraction from domestic woes.  Tottenham’s form in the UEFA Cup in 2006-2007 helped to galvanize the team’s performances in the league.  We finished fifth that year, making the quarter finals of the FA and UEFA Cup as well as the League cup semis.  Clearly European football wasn’t a distraction then.  I agree that playing in the UEFA cup caused some difficulties last season, but that was because we were struggling at the bottom of the league.  It would have been the same situation had Spurs been playing in the Champion’s League.

After three consecutive seasons in Europe, failure to qualify this season is a backwards step.  Unfortunately, it seems that the novelty of playing in Europe has worn off for some fans and even the manager.  Harry Redknapp complained on several occasions last season about playing in Europe. I agree that the Europa League’s format is bloated and it would benefit from being an un-seeded straight knock out competition.  That would make the competition different from the Champions League, throwing up some juicy ties early on in the competition.  But I would rather Spurs were in the competition than not.  Without European football next season, Redknapp won’t have the same opportunity to try out different formations and give some of the younger squad players a run out.

Next season, with increasing competition for the European spots from Everton, Aston Villa and Man City, Spurs could miss out two years in a row.  I think that some of our fans expect Spurs to easily qualify for the Europa League in the next campaign, and perhaps even the Champions League (will we ever learn ?).  I certainly think that we have a good chance, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.  If we fail to qualify for two seasons in a row, it will be difficult for Spurs to hold onto their best players and may make them less competitive in the transfer market.  The pressure to qualify for Europe next year will intensify as the season progresses.

To those who say they aren’t bothered about missing out on the Europa cup, I ask them to cast their minds back to the pre-Jol era, the dark days, when we were desperate to qualify for European competition in any form.  I also ask them to remember the euphoria of our first season back in Europe, putting Bestikas to the sword on their own patch, and the amazing atmosphere when battling back to draw 2-2 with Sevilla at home.  Spurs were one of the favourites for the UEFA Cup that year and were hard done by not to win it.  To the (slightly) older fans, I ask you to cast your minds back to the UEFA cup victories of 1972 and 1984, two of the proudest moments in our club’s history.  It would be nice to enjoy nights like that again.

But as they say, you have to be in it to win it. 

marc keown

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