Since defeat to Monaco sealed their Champions League fate, opinion has been divided as to whether a consequent Europa League voyage would be to the detriment of their Premier League campaign.
But why have Spurs acquired a form of arrogance that envisions themselves as better than the Europa League? They were truly outplayed by group winners Monaco, were lucky to get a point against second place Bayer Leverkusen and their only two wins came against the group’s whipping boys, CSKA Moscow. Let’s make it clear from the onset. Champions League dropouts have no place in the Europa League. It makes the tournament long-winded, seeding complicated and invariably belittles the tournament. It should be a totally separate entity for the clubs who aren’t quite up to Europe’s elite. Either way, Spurs are in the first knockout stage.
Pochettino’s team selection last night said everything you need to know about his and the club’s stance towards the competition but the attendance at Wembley said another on behalf of the fans. 62,000 is an impressive statistic for a game that had virtually no weight, but those 23,000 who chose not to make the journey despite having a ticket are those who characterise an increasing consensus towards the Europa League. There was a time when the Europa League, or the UEFA Cup back then, was a genuinely exciting thought.
Every fan had the right to be disappointed after this year’s Champions League ride. It has been a roller coaster that stalled at the start, closed down for engineering works then offered some brief moments of excitement before completely coming off the tracks. It has been anti-climactic at worst but surely not fatal. Spurs will remain in European competition and the prospect of a European run has the potential to invigorate those who have doubts. They certainly won’t fill Wembley, but Spurs are one of, if not, the best side in the competition.
Negatives include the Thursday-Sunday schedule, increased air miles and more tenuously, amplified squad fatigue and injury. The latter carries the same risk as a Champions League run, but if we are being brutally honest, most negatives conjured up by fans are grounded in competition snobbery. I always return to Atletico Madrid, a side who welcomed and won the competition en route to becoming one of Europe’s top 5. Unfortunately, Spurs are yet to come even close to those achievements but there lies a rousing example of what the tournament can do.
The pre-match atmosphere at Wembley was sombre in the knowledge that the best outcome was an inferior competition of which Spurs were regular callers, but an impressive performance and long-awaited victory at England’s home was enough to revitalise the 62,000. That just about sums up the changeable nature of football fans; all that matters is winning. Spurs need to carry that attitude into the Europa League.
Benefits comprise of winning a European competition, further opportunities for youth products and new signings, normalising playing at Wembley and most importantly, familiarising themselves with the routine of playing in Europe. Even if it is for just one season, Spurs’ lack of European football can harm club development. Chelsea and Liverpool can afford the odd season off, but one of Spurs’ largest pull factors is their European history and a lot of their transfer dealings hinge on it.
Generally speaking, the divide between fans is trivial. For as long as the players relish European competition, the fans will follow. Perhaps fans’ uncertainties stem from putting themselves into the shoes of players. Every player invested so much into last season and qualifying for Europe’s elite all to fail at the first hurdle is potentially disastrous and demoralising. Without sounding like an article on Brexit, exiting Europe is not quite as discouraging as it may sound. Players and fans alike must embrace the competition, scruff it around the neck and try to win it. Pochettino is yet to attain a trophy and this is as good a chance as any to put his side on the European ladder.