So Newcastle avoided the drop, and their fans don’t even really now if that’s good news or not. They were torn over the idea that getting relegated might have even been a good thing. Spend a season in the Championship, clear out some of the deadwood, the bad eggs, be left with a squad of players who want to be there, and come back to the Premier League fresh and reinvigorated. It’s fine in theory.
It wasn’t that long ago, 2012 in fact, when Newcastle finished 5th in the league, finishing ahead of the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool. It was just their second season back in the top flight, and heading into the last game of the season, they even had a chance of Champions League qualification. It all seems such a long time ago.
The reward that Alan Pardew’s men received for their over achieving exploits, was a place in the following seasons Europa League. When they qualified, they had a pretty small squad, and several things had lined up together to allow them to have such an impressive run. Their key players had all hit form together and at a key time, and they had managed to stay relatively injury free. If they wanted to maintain, or even better their 5th place finish, while dealing with the extra fixtures in the Europa League, they would need player reinforcements and some investment in the squad. Neither arrived.
The Europa League campaign was a bit of a damp squib and their league form suffered drastically. They went from 5th to 16th in one season, avoiding the drop by a mere 5 points. Trying to do things on the cheap had caught up, and almost cost them dearly. The season had shown, that if they wanted to progress as a club and compete in more competitions, then they would need to be continuously backed by the board. Instead, the lesson learned was; don’t qualify for the Europa League again.
A more pragmatic point of view, I’m sure you’ll agree. The mentality was that if the Europa League meant more investment, more players and a higher wage bill, then it simply wasn’t worth it to be involved. And Mike Ashley meant it; the remit given to Pardew each season was finish somewhere, anywhere between 7th and 17th – don’t get relegated, but for God’s sake man, don’t qualify for Europe either. And better not risk winning a cup and qualifying via that route either.
So now that leaves Newcastle fans in the weird situation where they don’t even know what they’re supporting anymore. They know that if they have a good first half of the season – as they did in the last two seasons – that the breaks would get put on at Christmas time anyway, so there was no point in getting excited. They can’t even dream of a cup run anymore; so what’s the point? Sit back and watch while your club buys cheap and sells big? Maybe they can celebrate and make a mock up trophy if they ever come top of the Financial Fair Play league instead.
The Premier League is such a lucrative place to be these days, that teams feel just being in the league, is better than competing in European competition. Well, Europa League anyway. It’s Champions League or nothing for everyone now. There are numerous examples; when it became clear that Champions League qualification was out of their grasp, we’ve all laughed at the running joke over the last few weeks as Liverpool and Spurs tried to out do each other in the shitness stakes and somehow avoid the Europa League places.
Last season, when Man United were struggling, it was a regular debate between me and my friends over whether it might be a good thing to finish outside of the Europa League places. But now we’re talking about teams like Man United and Liverpool, teams whose fans are used to European football and in a way can somewhat justifiably say they want to either be at Europe’s top table, or not eat at all.
Swansea City captain Ashley Williams went on record a few weeks ago saying that he was delighted that Swansea wouldn’t be in the Europa League next season. Citing the competition as a distraction and now they can just focus on their Premier League form.
You can understand their plight; the idea of heading off to the Artic Circle for a game on a Thursday night against FC Narina can take its toll , and statistics do show that teams playing on the Thursday night, suffer poor league results the following weekend.
But still, come on! I’m all for financial stability, and trying to make your club as secure as possible, but what about giving something back to the fans? Playing some of the more illustrious (and yes, there are other big teams in the Europa League) sides from Europe that your fans might not otherwise get the chance to see is something of a special occasion.
In 10 years time, or even right here today, what do you think Fulham fans will remember more fondly? The season they finished a comfortable 9th, or the time they beat Juventus 4-1 at Craven Cottage to win 5-4 on aggregate en route to the final of the Europa League?
It’s hard to pin point where exactly the blame rests, maybe its UEFA’s fault for making the Europa League such a bloated mess in the early part of the competition. The prize money isn’t up to much either, the winners would pocket about €8 million, while just qualifying for the Champions League gets you €12 million.
The money involved in the Premier League dwarfs the other leagues across Europe, and therefore teams with little to no European pedigree, like Spurs, Newcastle and Swansea are suddenly looking down their noses at competing for trophies with the likes of Sevilla or Napoli. When the board members have their quarterly meetings, I’m sure all the financial lines are going up on the graph, and that’s good news, but I cant help but shake the feeling that special occasions and the “fan experience” is getting more and more forgotten about.