Mihir Bose: English football will do itself no good by continuing to rubbish the Europa League

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The amount of muck poured on this competition reminds me of the words Kelvin MacKenzie said to John Major after he had taken Britain out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). As MacKenzie recounted to the Leveson inquiry on the press, as the hapless Prime Minister rang to ask the then Sun editor how he would treat the news, he replied, “Prime Minister, I have a bucket of shit by my desk and I am about to pour it on you.”

Some English managers, like Harry Redknapp, seem to have a similar view about the UEFA Europa League (UEL).

The English distaste for this competition arises from a combination of essential English resistance to change, and a touching romantic attachment to the old European Cup. That they should have formed such an attachment for this competition may seem curious. After all, it was started by the French who did not like all the English talk of Wolverhampton Wanderers being the best side in Europe. The English shunned the French invention and, but for men like Sir Matt Busby, may never have taken part. But once they did, for many English managers and fans, winning the Cup became almost as important as winning the FA Cup.

However, as with all first loves, you tend to forget the warts. And the fact we cannot avoid is that, as the 1990s began, the old European Cup was dying, if not dead already. The powers that be at UEFA, led by Lennart Johansson and Gerhard Aigner, recognised that, hence the launch of the Champions League.

Odd, is it not, that about this time the big clubs instigated the break-up of the old Football League, forming the Premier League? Both competitions were denounced in the media and by the fans. Yet they have proved to be the most successful ever in the history of football and remade club competitions both in Europe and around the world.

Change is difficult to accept, and even more difficult to predict how things will work out. But that these changes were necessary and have been for the good of the game can hardly be denied.

And this is where UEFA’s Europa League comes in. True, UEFA had to struggle to get it going. But that is because UEFA never really wanted this competition. Recall that when the Champions League started, the old Cup Winners Cup still carried on. This was the competition where English clubs always did so well, the first European cup competition to be won by an English club, Tottenham Hotspur. It was also the first European trophy Sir Alex Ferguson brought to Old Trafford. It had a huge impact, much beyond Manchester United’s playing fields, extending to the boardroom as it marked the backdrop to United floating on the stock market.

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But that old edifice had to be dismantled in 1998, that tumultuous year of change, football’s equivalent of the Arab Spring. UEFA’s hand was forced as part of the wider changes to the Champions League necessary to keep the bigger clubs happy and make sure they did not break away. I suspect that if the old Cup Winners Cup was still going, Redknapp and other English managers would not moan about taking part in it, even if it meant playing on a Thursday.

Such moaning means they give no credit to UEFA who, after years, have finally come up with a competition that really works and which, apart from England, the rest of Europe like.

Let us take money. Filthy lucre I know, but necessary in the modern world. With centralised marketing for broadcast and certain marketing rights, there is a fair sum of money for clubs.

Of the €200 million (£166 million/$ 258 million) revenue, 75 per cent of the gross revenue from media rights and commercial contracts goes to the clubs involved from the group stage onwards. The remaining 25% reserved for European football and for UEFA to cover organisational and administrative costs.

Each of the 48 clubs involved in the group stage can expect to receive a minimum amount of €1 million (£832,000/$1.1 million) per club.  A club could receive as much as €6.4 million (£5.3 million/$8.2 million), not counting the market pool share, which in true UEFA style is distributed on a complex formula taking into account the economic size of the television market of the country the club belongs to. And this means, of course, that a club from England, given the size of its market, benefits more.

Last season’s winners FC Porto received  €7.8 million (£6.5 million/$10.1 million) while SC Braga, the side FC Porto beat 1-0 thanks to Falcao’s goal in the all-Portuguese final in May, earned €4.5 million (£3.7 million/$5.9 million). But all this was dwarfed by Villarreal CF, the Spanish team Porto defeated in the semi-finals, who collected a combined €9m (£7.5 million/$11.6 million).

Now you may say that all this is for the bean counters. What about the lovers of football?

Here the viewing figures tell quite a story. UEFA claim a global unique audience of 634 million viewers. But what is very interesting is to compare the Europa League with the Premier League when it comes to television viewing figures.

In 2010/11, 25 per cent of UK Individuals watched the Europa League on UK TV. The highest UEL audience on Channel 5 was for the 2009/10 Final between Fulham and Atlético Madrid with 4.7 million viewers (20 per cent share of viewing). The highest audience on Channel 5 in 2010/11: Liverpool vs SC Braga with 3.5 million (14 per cent share of viewing), the highest audience on Channel 5 in 2011/12: Tottenham vs. PAOK Salonika with 2.3 million (nine per cent share of viewing).

Compare this with the Premier League. The highest 2011/12 audience of 2.4 million (14 per cent share of viewing) was for Chelsea vs Manchester United on September 18, 2011. And the highest 2010/11 audience of 2.7 million (14 per cent share of viewing) was for Chelsea vs Liverpool on February 6, 2011.

What has hobbled the Europa League in England is that a really big club has not figured in its last stages. Fulham fans may not agree, but they are not a Tottenham or a Liverpool. But this year, with both Manchester clubs involved, that might change. The competition will enable us to judge the depth and strength of English clubs.

It is significant that in the rest of Europe, that is how they use this competition. They do not pour muck over it, and English clubs and English media need to follow their example.

Mihir Bose is one of the world’s most astute observers on politics in sport and, particularly, football. He formerly wrote for The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph, and was the BBC’s head sports editor. Follow Mihir on twitter.