The schedule for the inaugural quarter-finals perfectly illustrates this. England, France and Italy are represented – via Leicester City, Marseille and Rome – but also the Czech Republic, Norway and Greece. The Dutch have two contenders: Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven.
At a time when the leaders of the most powerful teams and the richest leagues are compulsively promoting the idea that the key to the growth of European football lies in ensuring as many matches as possible between the continent’s superclubs, the Conference League offers a different paradigm.
It has, in many ways, been a kind of return to European football as it was in what could be considered the sport premodern erabefore the advent of group stages and draws and the major leagues being granted automatic entry for multiple teams in each competition.
For fans who follow the Conference League, the relative ignorance of the teams involved has not diminished the tournament. He improved it. Where the Champions League feels like a conveyor belt between a handful of cities, year after year, its younger sibling has an air of adventure. “It’s quite expensive, but the destinations are part of the attraction,” Ravenhorst said. What else, he said, drew him to Boras, Lucerne or Gjilan?
The call, however, goes beyond the simple possibility of travel. “The level is high and the matches are between more or less equal opponents,” Kyriakos said. “The fans loved it. The games were all sold out.
This has not only been the case in Greece; even in England, usually cynical about any idea perceived as new, Leicester City sold out every ticket to PSV’s visit last week. PSV had already done ditto for Thursday’s return match.
This parity has not necessarily come at the expense of quality. As Ravenhorst pointed out, Feyenoord’s side – made up of Slavia Prague, Union Berlin and Maccabi Haifa – “felt like they could be in the Europa League”.