United’s European Dilemma
Modern football, we're often told, has none of the charm and soul that characterised the beautiful game a few decades ago.
February 25th, 2014
Whether that’s the truth or simply a vision clouded by the tendency, typical of football fans, to regard anything that belongs to a bygone era as mesmerising and enthralling – even though it wasn’t – remains to be seen, but those who mourn the football of yesteryear can make a strong case when it comes to European competitions.
With the disappearance of the Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Cup first bloated beyond any reasonable measure and then stripped of its glorious name, Europe’s second competition has increasingly come to be regarded as a nuisance by a lot of clubs in the continent’s most important leagues.
Up until now, United had largely been spared the conundrum, given that the Reds have been Champions League regulars for 19 years, and European nights on Channel 5 were a reason to taunt opponents, rather than an extremely unappealing sight looming large on the horizon.
However, with 11 games left and an 11-point gap separating fourth spot and United, we might well be used to the fact that next season we’ll be swapping the Bernabeu and the Allianz Arena for some remote ground in Georgia or Moldova.
That throws up a dilemma. Do United honour the competition like few other English clubs have done since the competition began in its current format, or do they treat it like they’ve treated the League Cup for a number of seasons?
The positives of dismissing the Europa League are evident: Liverpool’s excellent season has largely benefited from the lack of European football, while Spurs and Swansea have often struggled when playing on Sunday after a Thursday night fixture in Europa.
On the other hand, a European trophy, glamorous or less so though it might be, remains a European trophy and one many Reds would argue the club ought to win, given United’s tradition and pedigree.
Furthermore while there’s absolutely no guarantee that United will manage to attract world class players in the summer – or even to finish in a Europa League spot for that matter – the current crop of players would make United a firm favourite to win Europe’s second competition.
Could a Europa League success be a catalyst for David Moyes, or would two games in four days further hinder United’s rebuilding process?
This season is a write-off but, ironically, the next 11 games could play a huge part in shaping the club’s future.