What happened to the European dream?

Sunday’s performance against Newcastle attached the usual press coverage, but some of it centred around our chances of getting into Europe via securing fifth place.

All this is premature, we have not got fifth place yet however some, even at this early stage, some are suggesting that another stint in the Europa League might not necessarily be the “prize” we want for our improved form.

To them the Europa League, with it’s demanding format, could be seen as a distraction, an unwanted hindrance to the main aim which presumably is to secure a top four place and regain Champions League qualification for 2012-13? Potentially it is a “poisoned chalice” as Lee Dixon described it on Match of the Day. Well surely that depends on much you drink from it!

I guess it’s an indication of how bloated, corpulent and corporate the Champions League has become that some competitions, which previously would be seen as worth the time and effort to win, have become marginalised? The Carling Cup and even the FA Cup have been diminished as managers give less priority by fielding weakened teams. Apparently there simply isn’t enough time and players to keep all the balls in the air not to mention motivation? Did UEFA really want, or anticipate that, domestic football would suffer in this way when they created the Champions League beast? Perhaps they don’t care and just look at the bank balance?

For Liverpool I guess we have three Europa League options. The first one is easy, chuck it! By that I mean make our excuses and leave the competition as early as possible, if we have to play qualifying rounds then it could be even before the Premiership starts. I suspect some managers, at various different stages of the competition, have done this or at least fielded a side which suggested they couldn’t care one way or the other they progress?

My head say this makes sense but in my heart I can’t advocate it. There is something morally wrong, not to mention arrogant, to be talking about a European place in such dismissive, apathetic terms. We’ve been spoilt over the years (twelve successive in Europe) but what do Birmingham fans, in the Europe for the first time in ages, feel when they hear this? I’m also from an era when a European place meant something. Perhaps it should always be so with Liverpool given what we’ve achieved in this field. It’s been good to us and it can again so let’s not shut it out.

So assuming we give it ago then surely we are left with just two approaches? Giving it the full throttle and going for it or, as we did this season, using the competition to give younger and squad players a run out, at least in the early stages. The irony is not lost in the sense that this is what many managers do with the FA Cup and Carling cup except they don’t have travel as far to do it. I’ve no doubt this is the policy Kenny will adopt, it also worked well with HRH and himself this season. Players such as Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing have benefited from such an approach I see no reason not to continue with this at least until the late rounds kick in assuming we play well enough to get there.

Jamie Carragher is for taking part and mentioned a key point

“I wouldn’t expect us to play our full team – especially in the group stages – but it’s great experience for young players to be involved in that kind of game. Sometimes, if you are playing only League games, you don’t need to change the team too much, so you have 10 or 12 disappointed players. Having more games makes it easier to keep everyone happy.”

Newer members of our current squad seem to be for the competition. Said Luis Suarez

“The Europa League is our objective. When I came I wanted to help Liverpool get there. When the second half of the season started, it looked really difficult but we have kept winning games and we’ve just been hoping Tottenham drop points.”

Of course the real gripe, and one of the reasons why the Europa League is regarded as the runt of the European litter, is the format with consists of a lengthy group stage and then an equally drawn out knock out process. This is far too over the top and out proportion to the rewards offered at the end, I feel tired just thinking about it! I guess UEFA, having devised what they felt to be a wining format with the Champions League, thought they would apply the same coat of paint to the UEFA Cup but perhaps one of the main attractions would be devising something completely different?

Then there is issue of those so called “champions” who have stiffed in the Champions League group competition being shunted into the Europa League as if it’s some kind of second best “plate” tournament. It’s hardly inspiring for them and the teams who are already in the competition. It is a long, long haul with little financial gain and little glory? Perhaps UEFA could give it a shot in the arm by switching to a knock out only tournament and then giving the winners a place in next years Champions League? Oh and lets get rid of horrible Thursdays please?

What ever the case something needs to be done. At present I’ll be holding my nose for the group stages and taking a bit more interest if we qualify for the knock out bit however if we get another trophy and some more experienced, match hardened youngsters as a result I guess the “ordeal” will have been worth it?

Finally it was sad to hear of the death of Henry Cooper over the weekend. It’s a sobering indication that time moves inexorably on when sportsman, who as a child I remember being close to their peak, pass away.

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