Europa League 2: UEFA's new competition driven by noble intentions, but ultimately proves to be exercise in futility

Vinay Sundar
The European Club Association said on Thursday it would hold a special general assembly in June to discuss controversial proposals to revamp European club competitions.

The announcement of the UEFA Europa League 2 has not been received with a lot of fanfare from all quarters and rightly so. Adding another European competition just muddles an already complicated qualification system that exists for the Europa League and the top tier competition, the Champions League.

The intention behind this tournament is to give a chance to teams from lower-ranked nations to try and play at the continental level, impress fans worldwide with their play and use this tournament to gain entry to the second tier of European football, the Europa League.

The Europa League 2 has been designed with enabling 32 more teams to participate in continental competition, with the current suggested format meaning that apart from the groups winners, teams that are placed second in their groups will clash in playoffs with teams that finish third in the Europa League to determine all the teams that make up the round of 16. National associations will have the liberty to decide how they assign places in this tournament and can choose between awarding it by league position or where teams finished in a cup competition.

However, despite this tournament being an attempt to give teams that belong to lower-ranked European nations a chance at participating in continental competitions, the fact that there will still be teams from the top-ranked leagues, from the very beginning, makes this a flawed concept that still seems to favour teams with greater financial assets and global presence.

The system that has been advocated will still involve teams from associations that are ranked at the top by UEFA like England, Spain, Germany and Italy. So, the teams that finish seventh in these leagues would all be a part of the UEFA Europa League 2. Apart from that, countries ranked below the top five associations will have two members representing them, so that means that there will be two teams from a country like Portugal competing.

Ultimately, though the aim of the competition is to be more inclusive and make more nations and clubs feel part of the continental experience, the UEFA Europa League 2 remains heavily tilted in favour of clubs from the top-ranked associations. Despite the number of countries represented overall in the group stage of European competitions going up to 34 from the current number of 26, it is still difficult to see how this will help enhance the advancement of clubs from lower-ranked nations.

As part of the introduction of the third tournament, UEFA will reduce the teams in the group stage of the Europa League to 32 from 48, which ensures that each European competition has 32 teams participating. This will automatically help in the improvement of the Europa League with the competitiveness and quality of football set to go up. That will make Thursday nights a better viewing proposition for fans globally, which will help UEFA and the clubs involved earn more revenue.

What makes the Europa League 2 a flawed concept is also the fact that apart from having a few teams from the top-ranked leagues, teams that get eliminated from the Europa League will also fall back into contention for the round of 16 of the Europa League 2. Considering the league positions last season in the top leagues, this would mean that teams like Sevilla, Burnley, Stuttgart and Atalanta would make it to the Europa League 2. Add to that the idea that only the winners of Europa League 2 will be promoted to the second tier, the Europa League in the following season.

Another aspect to be considered is that many of the smaller leagues have clubs that operate at very similar budgets across the country, and participation of a few from their countries will enable them to receive UEFA money at the end of the season, based on the extent of their progress in the Europa League 2. This money, however little it may be, could prove to be very crucial in tilting the competitive balance of leagues in smaller countries, which could eventually endanger the future of many teams in those countries.

Ultimately, UEFA's decision to add another competition will help enhance the quality of the Europa League and make it a product that fans will show greater interest in globally. That being said, the bar set for the Europa League 2 becomes very low by default, and that only reduces any impact that could have been made by the introduction of more clubs from smaller-ranked nations. With everything ultimately depending on revenue generated from sponsorships and broadcast, the Europa League 2 could prove to be more an exercise in futility than one to level the playing field.

Also See: Champions League: UEFA opens disciplinary proceedings agains AEK Athens, Ajax fans after nine people hospitalised in violent confrontation

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