Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It may have been a shadow of it’s former self, but it was still sad to the UEFA Cup bite the dust this evening.

In many ways though, it was good to see the competition put out of it’s misery as it just didn’t have the appeal that it used to and the fault for that can lie mainly at UEFA’s door.

As soon as they started tinkering around with the straight knock out format, started allowing too many of the top teams in the Champions League and teams started to field weakened sides in what should have been important games in the competition, the Cup basically had no future.

38 years, 25 different Clubs triumphing, when I was growing up the UEFA Cup meant something. It was also sad to me when the Cup Winners Cup went, as back in the day that meant something to.

I’ve always wondered what could have been if these European competitions were around in East Fife’s glory days in the 40’s and 50’s. I wouldn’t have been there to see it obviously, but who knows what trophies could have found their way back to Bayview.

It was fitting tonight that the last contested final should match the trophy’s history. It started off great and full of life, then took a dip in quality and enjoyment levels, looked like it was going out with a whimper and then towards the end, it started to garner interest again. And then it was all over.

The importance of the competition has really sunk in recent years and this can be seen by the TV coverage of the last ever final. In the UK, it was relegated to ITV4, so not everyone would be able to see it even if they wanted to. In Canada, it wasn’t actually shown at all and the first airing of it will be on two day delayed coverage on Setanta. No one cares about it any more, unless your team is in it and actually show that they want to be in it.

The last final was deservedly won by Shakhtar Donetsk. They looked the better side throughout and started the game with such promise and flair that it looked like it was going to be all over before half time. Their eventual 2-1 extra time win against Werder Bremen wasn’t a classic in the mould of the 2003 Celtic – Porto final, but neither was it like some of the bore defensive stuff we saw in the 80’s and 90’s. It was an enjoyable game of football.

And that’s what the UEFA Cup should have been about all this time. Enjoyment. Enjoyable football, enjoyable away trips for the fans. UEFA killed the real enjoyment, the real passion of the competition. Once again the money won and the greedy Clubs who wanted more games got their way.

Will the new Europa League give any more enjoyment? I wouldn’t think so. The first season buzz will soon be replaced with Club’s feeling it’s a waste of their time and money to travel thousands of miles for meaningless games when their real heart lies in their domestic leagues. It’ll soon all fizzle out to be replaced by something else in three years time or tinkered away beyond recognition.

What can save what used to be such valued competitions? European Super Leagues?

Nothing will ever make these competitions as enjoyable to me again as pure knockout rounds did.

Unlikely we’ll ever see this again, but stranger things have happened in football and who would have thought not that many years ago that the European Cup, the European Cup Winners Cup and the UEFA Cup would all no longer exist?

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