The UEFA Europa League (UEL) is a second-tier competition for eligible European clubs. Held annually, each edition of the Europa League is participated by 40 clubs, consisting of 32 clubs playing from the group stage and 8 clubs ranked 3rd in their respective UEFA Champions League group, who will qualify for the round of 32.
The Europa League has given football fans plenty of unforgettable matches, including thrilling finals such as Atletico Madrid vs Fulham (2010), Chelsea vs Arsenal (2019), Sevilla vs Inter Milan (2020), and more. While those games will be cherished by fans around the world, the fact is that the Europa League is inferior compared to the UEFA Champions League.
The question remains: is the Europa League a major trophy? Here’s what you need to know:
Can the Europa League be considered a major trophy?
Several elements are common amongst the most prestigious major trophies in football. While not all elements have to be present, it includes historic value, viewership, level of competition, association, prize, and the stake of the competition.
The UEFA Europa League was built upon the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, an international competition played during 1955-1971. It became the UEFA Cup before being rebranded as the UEFA Europa League in 2009.
The UEFA Europa League is an official competition organised by UEFA, which makes it an official competition under FIFA.
You can find out the differences between UEFA and FIFA here.
The above automatically ticks a few boxes of the required elements for a major trophy, including historic value and the association behind the competition. While the rest elements such as the level of competition and prizes may be debatable, it does not hinder the conclusion that the UEFA Europa League has more than enough to be considered a major trophy.
Why is the Europa League considered a major trophy?
#1 One of the 3 major European trophies
Excluding the UEFA Super Cup which can only be participated by the winner of the Champions League and Europa League, the UEFA Europa League is one of the three international trophies available for eligible European Clubs (Champions League, Europa League, Conference League).
In terms of prestige, the order goes by the Champions League, Europa League, and the new Conference League. It shows that the Europa League is not the most prestigious European title, but it is above the Conference League and still a trophy worth winning for the majority of European Clubs.
#2 Qualification for UEFA Champions League
A new policy in 2015 stated that Europa League champions will receive qualification for the following UEFA Champions League on top of the prize money and the trophy. Better yet, Europa League champions will be placed in pot number one during the Champions League group stage draw, putting them in an advantageous position in the race for the Champions League title.
More importantly, qualification for the UEFA Champions League has upped the stakes for a Europa League final. As Europa League participants are often not the strongest in their domestic league, clubs see the finals as a rare chance to qualify for the highly coveted Champions League.
The latest success story would be from Eintracht Frankfurt as they qualify for the 2022-2022 UEFA Champions League despite placing 11th on the Bundesliga table.
You can find out how winning the Europa League affects qualification to the Champions League here.
#3 Ticket to the UEFA Super Cup
Last but not least is a ticket to the UEFA Super Cup final, a 50-years old cup where Champions League and Europa League champions will face off for the trophy before the start of the season.
It is only normal that Europa League winners came in as underdogs, but there are times when Champions League winners are convincingly beaten such as the 2012 finals, which saw Europa League winner Atletico Madrid thrashing Champions League Winner Chelsea in a 4-1 thriller.
You can find out more about the UEFA Super Cup here.
Why isn’t the Europa League considered a major trophy?
#1 Second-tier to UEFA Champions League
It is no secret that the Europa League is inferior to the Champions League. While any participating clubs will appreciate the Europa League, they will much rather have a shot at the prestigious Champions League trophy.
Winning the Europa League is not easy, and the winners will have a chance to face the Champions League winner in the UEFA Super Cup final. However, winning the Super Cup is not comparable to the Champions League trophy, just like how a Europa League trophy will never be as prestigious as a Champions League trophy.
#2 Quality gap between participants
The Europa League group stage consists of 32 clubs from countries across Europe, including countries that are not ranked high enough to qualify for the Champions League. This often creates matchups between teams of distinctly different quality.
Moreover, Champions League participants that ranked 3rd in their respective group will qualify for the round of 32 in the Europa League, which even Jose Mourinho pointed out as unfair to the other 24 clubs that qualified from the group stage.
#3 Prize money
Whether or not the prize money is ‘big enough’ depends on the financial status of each club, but it is fair to say that the prize money for Europa League at $9.73 million is not exciting enough as it is not even half of what Champions League receives at $22.69 million.
Europa League winners do receive additional cash of $4.53 million for qualifying for the UEFA Super Cup, and they will receive more if they win the Super Cup. However, it does not take away the fact that the prize money is not necessarily boosting the prestige of the UEFA Europa League.
How prestigious is the Europa League?
The Europa League has shown incredible finals over the years, won by some of the best clubs to play in the European top flight. Regardless, it has to be said that the Europa League is not the most prestigious title in Europe. It does not have the most attractive prize and the level of competition is much lower than the Champions League.
On the other hand, the Europa League remains a prestigious competition as there are high stakes to play for, such as a spot in pot number one for the UEFA Champions League and a place in the UEFA Super Cup final.
The UEFA Europa League will be known for what it is, nothing more and nothing less. It is a second-tier competition that allows the winner to establish themselves amongst European elites. For that reason alone, it is a fair conclusion to say that the Europa League is a major trophy!
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