The Europa League is less a poor relation of the Champions League, more an embarrassing relative locked under the stairs. Stuart Rayner asks why UEFA has allowed it to happen.
FOR Newcastle United, the Europa League was supposed to be the prize for a season of over-achievement. It is turning out to be more of a punishment.
Too often Premier League clubs spend months striving to qualify, then once they are in it, desperately trying to get out of it.
Newcastle have not been guilty of that, and should book their place in the knockout stages with a game to spare on Thursday.
But it would be stretching it to suggest they have given the grand old competition (including its Uefa Cup days) the respect it deserves, or at least used to.
They have never fielded a full-strength side in it – at certain times it has been anything but – and more bizarrely are yet to wear their famous black-and-white shirt in any of the six games.
While the Lime Greens’ European fortunes have not suffered too much from Alan Pardew’s (right) selections – winning at home, drawing away – their domestic form is taking a hit from the extra workload.
This time last year they were third in the table. Yesterday morning they were 12th.
There is a disjointed look about the Magpies this season. Whereas 12 months ago they were reaping the benefits of a settled side, the constant chopping and changing Europe has forced upon them – exacerbated by injury and suspension – has denied them the opportunity to build any rhythm.
A first Europa League season ought to be a springboard to better things for upwardly-mobile clubs. The reality is rather different.
History suggests good campaigns in Europe and the Premier League are incompatible.
Fulham got to the 2010 final, but had to settle for mid-table mediocrity at home, whereas Aston Villa went out in the play-offs and qualified again for the next competition.
Last season Birmingham City, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City reached the group stages. Birmingham missed out on automatic promotion, Tottenham on the Champions League (though admittedly only because Chelsea won it), and having gone furthest of the three, Stoke were 14th in the league. The two Manchester giants were parachuted into the knockout stages and quickly got out of them to concentrate on a titanic title race.
That it is one or the other is not in Uefa’s interest, yet they are most to blame. They have turned a once-cherished competition into a booby prize.