Europa Conference League: 5 reasons why UEFA’s new competition is a good thing

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Thursday evenings are a bit busier! The inaugural Europa Conference League is about to kick off, joining the Champions League and Europa League as Europe’s third club competition.

This is UEFA’s first truly new club tournament since the UEFA Cup (which became the Europa League in 2009) was introduced 50 years ago. Here are five reasons why the Conference League – despite its trophy resembling a stylized office trash can – should be a worthy addition to the game.

QUIZ! Can you name all the European clubs this season?

1. Small clubs get their shot at glory

Jose Mourinho

(Image credit: PA)

OK, there are a few big names in the Conference League – 2019 Champions League runners-up Tottenham and Jose Mourinho’s Roma jump right out – but this is Europe’s third-tier competition, and a lot of that is reflected by the stature of the teams involved.

Rennes played in the Champions League for the first time last season, popular Bundesliga upstarts Union Berlin are back in Europe after a 20-year absence, and maybe Feyenoord – European champions in 1970 and two-time UEFA Cup winner – might be inspired to reclaim the former glories.

And even for minnows like Flora Tallinn of Estonia and Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar, there’s always the risk of upset in a one-off match against opponents more accustomed to playing on the European stage. After all, the latter beat Celtic in a Champions League qualifier five years ago.

2. The Europa League is getting stronger

It makes sense that by giving some of the “inferior” teams their own competition, the quality of the Europa League improves.

Indeed, of the 14 Conference League qualifiers who made it to the 2020/21 Europa League, ten came out in the group stage – one of whom, Gent, failed to pick up a single point.

Some of this season’s Europa League groups wouldn’t look out of place in the Champions League – proof, perhaps, that the Conference League’s intentions are geared towards the greater good.

3. More countries represented in the European competition

Europa Conference League

(Image credit: Getty)

This may not apply so much to clubs from countries with multiple Champions League and/or Europa League teams – but for countries like Estonia, Gibraltar and Armenia, their participants can be very proud of fly the flag of their country on the continental stage. .

The aforementioned Flora Tallinn and Lincoln and Red Imps are the first teams from their respective countries to qualify for a UEFA club tournament proper – and they are joined by Alashkert from Armenia.

In last season’s Champions League and Europa League, 30 countries were represented. Across the three competitions this season, that number has risen to 36 – a modest increase but one that shows the Conference League’s potential to make European club competitions more inclusive and accessible.

4. It could be a valuable source of income for less well-off clubs

Each Conference League club receives €2.94m (£2.5m) for qualifying alone. Now, that won’t exactly change the lives of Spurs or Roma, but it could make all the difference for some of the less well-off outfits.

Even better, even if you don’t make it out of the group stage, each win nets you €500,000 (£426,000) – and even a draw is worth €166,000 (£141,500). Go all the way with a perfect record and the prize money tops 15m euros (£12.8m) – which, in all fairness, probably wouldn’t be sniffed at by Spurs or Roma.

5. Afternoon kick-off

nuno

(Image credit: Getty)

Live football at 3:30 p.m. on weekdays? You bet! At least in the group stage, anyway – with several teams from the coldest and furthest corners of UEFA competing.

Kairat Almaty will kick off all three of their home group matches then – with Kazakhstan so far away they’re not actually in Europe – with HJK Helsinki and Flora Tallinn each doing so once. Not that we encourage anyone to roar at the champions of Finland during office hours or anything…

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