In England, the disdain in which the Europa League is held is such that to take part in it is seen as a penance for not qualifying for its big brother, the Champions League. The chant 'Thursday nights, Channel 5' is a prime example of the intense snobbery displayed against the competition, which is simply not present across the rest of the continent. TV pundits frequently attack the Europa League, some even make the ludicrous suggestion that is better to finish beneath the qualification places than to deal with the hassle of playing in it. So what is the cause of this apathy?
It appears the Europa League has acquired the reputation of a 'losers' cup'; the teams in it either couldn't qualify for the Champions League domestically or were eliminated from the Champions League early. The reputation of the competition is also watered down by the fact that qualification can be attained through the ridiculous method of a good disciplinary record under UEFA's Respect Fair Play rankings. The sheer length of the competition makes it seem too much work for little reward, too. To become champions after starting in the first qualifying round, you would have to play an exhausting 23 games before lifting the trophy.
Although many teams enter at later stages, it is still a lot of games to be played in addition to domestic cup and league duties. Perhaps this contempt is the reason why English teams have been so dire in the Europa League. Take Spurs last season, who didn't progress out of their group, or the Manchester clubs. They expected to take the competition by storm, but were undone in the last 16. Of course this is also down to the deployment of weakened squads, but even when English clubs play their first teams they tend to struggle against far more motivated opponents.
A major reason for the English scorn of the Europa League is the perceived quantum leap between it and the Champions League. But upon closer examination, it is clear that this is not as large as some would have you believe. Many of the teams in this season's Europa League could easily do well in the Champions League: Inter Milan, Atlético Madrid, Lazio, Marseille - the list goes on. There are also several Champions League sides that one would expect to find in the Europa League like Cluj, BATE and Nordsjælland. Further evidence lies in this season's European Super Cup (the annual competition between the winners of both European competitions): the Europa League winners Atlético demolished Champions League winners Chelsea 4-1.
One man in England who appreciates the value of the Europa League is Andre Villas Boas. His victory with Porto in 2011 is the jewel in the crown of his CV and persuaded Roman Abramovich to hire him at vast expense soon afterwards. Now at Tottenham, AVB still sees the merit of the competition that made his name, and is bemused by the English attitude towards it, commenting 'I respect the competition. I certainly think it is viewed as a punishment in England and I cannot understand why. It is a traditional trophy.' The Portuguese manager has put his money where his mouth is and has so far fielded extremely strong squads. This could hardly have been more of a departure from Harry Redknapp, who labelled the Europa League 'a killer' to Spurs' Premier League hopes if he played anything more than a reserve side.
So it seems that our disrespect of the Europa League is as alien to other Europeans as driving on the right is to us, and until we change our attitudes, even our biggest clubs will be doomed for Europa League ignominy.