There is no mistaking Lucas Neill’s resolve when it comes to the “new” Europa League.
On the official site he talks about how we need to get 4 more points to get that desirable (?) 7th place that gets us into the prestigious (?) Europa league. Or rather, it gets us into the third of four qualification rounds that takes us, if successful, to the group stage.
The Europa League is, as you all know, a slightly altered UEFA Cup.
The main football related difference include a regular group stage with 48 teams in 12 groups with home and away games. However, maybe the biggest difference is that UEFA has centrally negotiated the TV deals. The money will be better and, maybe more importantly, the money will not depend on if you happen to play a high profile team (if there are any) or not, as was the case in the UEFA Cup.
If West Ham reaches the lucrative (?) group stage we will have played 10 games when it’s finished, and the following knockout stage will force the winners to play another 9 games. As the Guardian pointed out some month ago that’s half a PL season and will certainly take its toll on the squad.
But even if there are plenty of examples of teams that has been struggling in the league the season when they return to the international cup scene I think it would be great if we could have a go. Reading the Neill interview is almost all you need to understand why. The players want to do this! One of the things that drives people in general and footballers in particular is the possibility to go to the next level. Players can do that either by climbing a career ladder by changing clubs or they can hope to be part in a club that intends to take that next step. Even if we have quite a few internationals in the squad, the opportunity to play a bunch of competitive games in other countries will be a buzz for quite a few of them, and a dream come true for some of them, especially the youngsters!
It will also be another lure for the players we want to sign in the summer. I can’t count all the times I’ve heard players say that they joined a team for the chance to play on the international level. A lot of times that is pure bullshit as they tend to go to the team that pays the best, but at least it may prevent us from having to substantially overbid the competition.
It’s also interesting that Neill is the one fronting this. Even though he is the Captain and it could all be about leadership, it could also be a genuine desire for him to play in those games.
He is out of contract this summer and it is said that he will be forced to accept a pay cut if he wants to extend his stay with us. The way he plays at the moment is the best I’ve seen him play in our shirt and if he can keep that up he is more than welcome to Captain our side in Europa next season pay cut or not.
I’m the one usually being the grouch but I’ve seen quite a few negative posts and articles about the Europa League and us playing in it. I say go get that 7th place and let’s play in Europe next season.