By Ryan Fleming
A few colleagues and myself have been talking about the recent European match that took place late Wednesday afternoon. To the surprise of most of us it was the Europa League Final. I was aware, obviously, but many who follow the sport really had no idea. What was surprising to us was how little UEFA put into letting fans know that FC Braga and FC Porto were playing something all-together much more important than just another European match.
In respect to both Braga and Porto, perhaps the lack of interest in the Final could be the teams that were playing. Again, respect has to be given to both of the teams and Porto especially for winning the Europa Cup, 1-0, but much of the world outside Portugal probably did not care all that much about the match. This, in itself is an issue. And UEFA is squarely to blame.
I don’t don myself a problem-solver or an architect in making things better. But alas, I have proposed some changes to make this all-important game something of importance in even the most casual of fans.
1. Make it the day before the Champions League Final or at least in the same week. By doing this, you are taking some of the astonishing aura surrounding the biggest club game of the year and gracefully placing that over perhaps the second biggest club match of the year. Also, since both of the finals would be close to the same time, why not play both the matches in the same venue and make some of those that go to CL final have a bit of a holiday out of it all. All the people would be there anyway.
Let’s face it, having it midweek before domestic finals and league games makes the Final seem more irrelevant and commonplace.
2. More teams that crash out of the CL enter the EL. What was that? You say that there are already enough teams that do it? Well, you are probably right, but what isn’t tried can never be faulted. Let’s face it, some of the world’s best teams get knocked out of the CL early. Why not place some of those into the EL knockout rounds to give the teams and the competition itself a bit more publicity.
What this would do, most appealing to myself at least, would give the clubs that used to be formidable contenders in Europe (Ajax, Celtic, Roma) to compete for a cup in a time where the biggest teams and the biggest leagues complete swallow the smaller markets like they don’t exist. Right now, the only time the now-smaller-clubs have success is in domestic cup matches (which is still why Cup matches are fantastic).
3. Market the heck out of the event. I cannot remember one piece of advertisement or a preview on The Guardian or Soccernet.com. This is not to say there wasn’t one, but we all know the kind of publicity and press time Manchester United and Barcelona are getting. Of course, they deserve it, but so didn’t Braga and Roma.
These are just a few simple ideas that could get more people interested in, if not the entire competition itself, at least the final. These teams deserve at least that.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.