Sunday, July 12, 2020
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Last night’s Uefa Cup tie between Aston Villa and Ajax marked the competition’s first interesting match up this season. Having had to endure months of such fixtures as Portsmouth vs. Guimaraes, and Man City vs. FC Midtjylland, last night we saw two former European Cup winners going head-to-head in the kind of game Europe’s second tier of club competition should be all about. 

Although the Champion’s League, and the money therein, is all consuming, there is the need for a second string European club tournament. Not only does it give smaller clubs an opportunity to play in Europe, but it also gives larger clubs with realistic Champion’s League pretensions – such as Aston Villa - the opportunity to cut their teeth on the continent. 

Unfortunately in its current incarnation the Uefa Cup is farcical. The tournament is a confused mess that has been overhauled time and time again to try to please everyone. Instead the constant meddling has cheapened it and made it pale even further in comparison to the burgeoning Champion’s League. 

For starters the competition is far too long and arduous. The Uefa cup wittles down 157 teams via an initial long-winded knockout round, followed by an indecipherable group phase and finally another knockout stage - in which 12 teams eliminated from another competition join the fray.  

In its attempts to be more inclusive Uefa has made it all the more difficult for smaller clubs to navigate their way towards any success, and cheapened the tournament’s image in the eyes of the bigger clubs with pretensions to lifting the trophy. 

Uefa is to remodel the competition for 2009-2010. Instead of the Uefa Cup it will be rebranded the Uefa Europa League. The ‘new’ tournament will give another nod to the Champion’s League by modeling its group stage and knockout rounds upon Europe’s elite club competition.  However, with three times as many teams involved and a reward only fractionally as prized it remains to be seen whether the new format will revoultionise a floundering competition.  


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