Monday 29 September ~

The Fairs Cup was created in 1955 as a competition for cities that entered trade fairs. The first tournament took a ludicrous three years to complete because fixtures were designed to coincide with the fairs. FIFA president and noted traditionalist Sir Stanley Rous was probably the only person who regretted the competition’s demise in 1971. But if any international tournament has offered more unlikely entry criteria, it may be the Fairs Cup’s successor, the UEFA Cup, or, as we now have to learn to call it, the Europa League.

The continent’s second-ranked club tournament is changing radically, dramatically, out of all recognition, if you believe UEFA’s breathless press release, which promises “wholesale changes”, “a fresh format” and a “new impetus”. In fact, of course, the competition is simply being rebranded. It has a new logo, a new name and a slightly different set-up, but basically the winners will be what they always have been – the best of the also-rans. Let us count the possible ways your club can enter. 1. Finishing just behind the Champions League qualifier; 2. Winning the domestic cup; 3. Winning the League Cup in eccentric countries such as England; 4. “Winning” the Intertoto Cup; 5. Through the Fair Play league; 6. Winning the league in countries too feeble to get a place in the Champions League; 7. Finishing third in the Champions League group stage; 8. Writing your club’s name on a piece of paper and slipping it into the hat in the certain knowledge that no one will be able to prove you have not qualified.

A UEFA spokesman says rather vaguely that the new tournament will result in “teams from emerging countries or lesser known teams challenging the ‘old’ order of established European clubs. It is exactly this special character that the new identity will seek to capture.” In the days when the Champions Cup was only for champions, there was some truth in that. A smaller club that did well in its league might easily find itself playing (and beating) Bayern Munich, as Norwich did in 1993, or Barcelona, as Dundee United did in 1987.

But now that the “old order of established European clubs” have all but guaranteed spots in the Champions League every year, no amount of tinkering – or even the centralising of marketing and TV rights – will bring back the rough credibility that the UEFA Cup had in the 1970s and 80s. That’s not to say it is entirely redundant. But for as long as it remains a repository for the sweepings of European football, rather than a genuine second-tier competition, Sir Stanley would still be convinced he was on the right lines all along. Mike Ticher

Comments (2)
Comment by salamander 2008-09-29 18:50:59

UEFA can tinker with the format of this competition as much as they like but unfortunately certain English clubs/managers will not give it the credence it deserves. So what if it is the poor relation of the Champions League. If that attitude prevails then why do these certain clubs bother competing in the Premiership at all, as they (the manager) knows, the players know and the fans know that they haven't got a snowball in hell's chance of actually winning it. In all probability they also know that they have little more chance of qualifying for the Champions League at all. We have all heard managers and players bleating on about 'qualifying for Europe' as the be all and end all of a club's destiny but what happens the following season?
This is what happens..... a failure to take the competition seriously by fielding teams made up largely of reserves. Then they wonder why fans don't bother to turn up. The usual excuses are trotted out about too many games/saving players for the BIG match at the weekend/accumulating enough points to avoid relegation. I do realise, of course, that it must be very difficult having to play 2 games a week sometimes, notwithstanding the need to travel thousands of miles to compete in someones back garden with the threat of nuclear war lurking round the corner. It must be a real shock when actually doing what you are paid to do gets in the way of one's golf/taking the WAG out to buy yet another pair of shoes/completing the purchase of one's fifth sports car or luxury pad.
The answer to this perplexing conundrum is quite simple.
Simply juggle your players/formations etc (obviously without us fans realising the cunning ploy) to conveniently finish just below the magical 'European Spot'. Sorted.
You can hear the beleaguered manager now, can't you.....
'Oh, hang on a minute, I hadn't bargained for the InterToto place'.
'Oh, silly me, now I've got to tell the players that they will be playing in Georgia come July and not sunning themselves in Costa Packet. Now then, wasn't there a war there a while back'.

Comment by imp 2008-09-30 01:15:50

I thought this past summer's InterToto Cup was the last one, with even Uefa finally catching on that the competiton was utterly pointless. Having said that, I developed a singular affection for such an absurd competitive entity. I'm even proud to say I've been to two InterToto Cup ties in my life, including one that featured Ronaldinho and Roberto Baggio. It finished 0-0.

The Uefa Cup has also outlived its purpose. Merge it all into one European Cup, abolishing tedious group stages while we're at it. If anyone's interested, have the European equivalent of a Johnstone's Paint Trophy if teams are upset at getting knocked out too early. The Praline Super League or something, as it'd be Belgium and Swiss teams mostly in it. And Scottish ones. So better make it the Deep-Fried Praline Super League.

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