by James Willis

It’s hardly a well kept secret that the Europa League has struggled to earn respect amongst football fans. As the second tier tournament in European football, it’s never really commanded the same level of appreciation as the Champions League has.

However, as a Spurs fan, I remain hugely in favour of the Europa League. So much so, that when I read UEFA’s plans to renovate the European football scene, I immediately labelled it as stupid.

UEFA’s “discussions” recently have revolved around disassembling the entire Europa League and instead doubling the size of the Champions League. Therefore meaning that practically all the teams eligible to enter the second tier competition, now get a free pass into the top tier of European football.

As a Tottenham fan, that may sound ideal. Another crack at the Champions League and fourth place isn’t even a requirement. But then, where’s the prestige gone? I want to see my club reach the Champions League by finishing in the top four, not by simply trudging into a bare minimum sixth position.

For a long time, many fans have been suggesting that the Champions League should only be entered by the champions of each nation. Surely, a move like this from UEFA is just heading in the complete opposite direction?

As if that wasn’t enough, why should top European teams have their fixture lists polluted further with even more “nothing” fixtures? With all due respect to smaller clubs around Europe, it’s hardly a sensible idea to send them up against Barcelona or Real Madrid just on the 0.1% chance of a “giant killing”.

The reason the idea has struck a dissonant chord with me personally though, is actually because of my love for the Europa League. The group stages may be filled with lesser fixtures and it’s a fair distance off the Champions League in that respect, but it still carries with it a unique magic that the Champions League never did.

Despite it being the lesser of the two European competitions, the Europa League always gave me a sense of camaraderie with the other British teams that were in the tournament. On one night, with a ton of fixtures around Europe, I find myself wishing wins for both Newcastle and Liverpool, as well as Spurs.

Of course, that only remains until Spurs get drawn against another British team, but it’s still a respect that I never felt when Tottenham were playing in the Champions League. For that one season, I would have enjoyed to see Spurs as the only British team to qualify.

These plans go way beyond that though. Despite the perception of the Europa League in England, it’s actually a far more respected competition in many other nations. That was evident in Andre Villas-Boas and Porto’s success in 2011.

In England, we would never have experienced Fulham’s magical run to the final in 2010 or a once likeable Liverpool’s trophy success in 2001 during their treble season without the Europa League.

It’s a tournament that may not get much respect but that’s not to say it doesn’t deserve it. I for one would hate to see the Europa League disappear.

So, UEFA, if you want to play around with European football to make it more appealing to everyone, how about this: give the Europa League winner a Champions League group stage berth for the following season. Then watch attitudes towards the competition change. Suddenly there’s a prize, beyond money, that teams will strive for.

Quite frankly, that’s all that European competitions need to improve right now.