To its detractors, this is a third-rate tournament, far from the glamor level of the elite of European football, but the first Europa League Conference which kicks off this week has many advantages.
Tottenham Hotspur and Jose Mourinho’s Roma are the star attractions of this brand new third level of continental competition.
It might not sound great, but beyond them it’s an opportunity for clubs in some of the smaller countries on the continent to play more matches, earn more money and to get more visibility.
It’s, basically, a good idea, although it might not attract millions of neutral viewers, but then again, why should it?
There’s a mix of old famous names and obscure little clubs like Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps, who once beat Celtic in the first leg of a Champions League qualifier.
The creation of the Conference League is accompanied by a rationalization of the second division of the Europa League, from 48 inflated teams in the group stage to 32, as in the Champions League.
There are also 32 teams in the Conference League, which offers only one place in each of the five big European leagues, although there is no Spanish team as the future representative Villarreal won the League. Europa and thus qualified for the Champions League.
That leaves Spurs, Roma, Union Berlin from Germany and Rennes from France.
The Netherlands, meanwhile, have three competing clubs, including former European Cup winner Feyenoord, and the goal is to reach the final on May 25 next year at the National compact. Arena in Tirana, the Albanian capital.
– Financial rewards –
The financial rewards on offer are pale compared to the Champions League, with a paltry prize pool of € 235m ($ 278m, £ 201m). In the Champions League, the jackpot is two billion euros.
If you participate in the Champions League in the group stage, you are guaranteed a minimum of around 17 million euros, plus payouts per point earned and money from your TV market, as well as door revenue revenue.
That figure drops dramatically for the Europa League and by the time you get to the Conference League the guaranteed income is only around three million euros.
That’s still a lot for some of the participating clubs and it increases dramatically as the competition progresses – Tottenham, as the top-ranked participating team, could pocket around € 20million by going all the way .
It is certainly not a huge sum for one of the 10 richest clubs in the world with an income last year of almost 400 million pounds, but maybe Nuno Espirito Santo’s side should be focus on the possibility of lifting a rare piece of silverware.
After all, while finishing in the Premier League’s top-four must be their priority, Spurs have only won two League Cups in the past 30 years.
Mourinho, who took charge of a club game for the 1,000th time last weekend, has won it all – including two Champions Leagues, the UEFA Cup and the Europa League – so he’s tempted by the chance to get his hands on on that new trophy, or does he care?
“I don’t want to lie to you and tell you that this competition does not interest me. It interests me. I would like to win it,” he said this week.
Roma will start their home campaign against Bulgarians CSKA Sofia, while Spurs will be in France to face Rennes.
© 2021 AFP