Andre Villas-Boas commented that the third place team for the group stage was being rewarded for failure with their place in the Europa League, suggesting instead losing teams from the first knockout round should join instead, but is it fair for any sides to have this back up?
It was inevitable that Andre Villas-Boas's comments after the Tottenham Hotspur match last night would be perceived as a slight on Chelsea, even though he was making a wider point about the set-up of the European tournaments. Coming on the heels of Chelsea group stage exit from the Champions League, and with the Portuguese manager's own history at the club still fresh in the mind, it was always going to be seen that way. But Villas-Boas has a longer history with the Europa League than he does with any English side, and his comments reflected the way many people feel about the "lucky loser" entrants to Europe's secondary competition.
At the moment, not only do the eight third placed from the Champions League groups enter the Europa league at the knockout phase, there is also space in the group stages for plenty more defeated sides from the Champions League pre-qualification rounds. Ten losers from the Champions League play-off round go straight into the Europa Group stages, with 15 losers from the previous round of Champions League qualifying given a chance in the Europa League play-off round. This makes it conceivable (I think, it’s very hard to follow) that the group stages of the Europa League could have 25 teams out of 48 that have already lost in the Champions League, with eight more added to the sides that qualify for the knockout stages.
UEFA have set up a system where the top teams get several bites at the cherry in terms of European football. It's more understandable to have teams come into the tournament at the group stage, and in a way it guarantees a reward for the smaller sides that do well in the previous season, even if they fail to make it through the final qualification round for the Champions League. It is completely unfair though, to have the third placed sides parachuted in from the Group Stages of the Champions League.
Villas-Boas was right to say this rewards failure, but he was wrong to suggest that the losing teams from the round of 16 could perhaps join instead. Once the tournament's group stages have started, clearly there should be no more entrants to that tournament.
There is no necessary benefit to the sides coming from the Champions League, the money they made in the group stages there is more than teams in the Europa League get for the whole tournament, and often they're not desperate to play in the secondary cup themselves. The system badly needs to be addressed by UEFA, and the focus should not be on a misinterpretation of Villas-Boas' words as a dig at his old club, but on the problems in the set-up of European football.
What do you think? Should the safety net of a third place group stage finish in the Champions League be removed?