Following their agonising exit on penalties to FC Basel, Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas remarked that his side had raised the profile of the Europa League in the eyes of the usually cynical English.
"The way they have played in the Europa League this season, the way they have approached it, the way they played every Thursday and every Sunday, the commitment that they made to the competition, showed the country that it was possible to approach it in a different way,” Villas-Boas said after the defeat.
It was a pointed reference to teams who, season after season, scrap for the minor Premier League places in hunt of a European holy grail only to field shadow XIs in the continent’s secondary club competition – take a bow, Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa.
Obviously this isn’t the case should a team be lucky enough to participate in the Champions League, but it is rather irritating – understandable, but irritating nonetheless – when the likes of Liverpool and, to a lesser extent, Newcastle throw on the kids for a European night, having drooled over the prospect of a top-six finish for the best part of five years.
It’s quite easy to laugh at AVB’s comments, laden with tautology and second only to Brendan Rodgers in the office-speak stakes, and in this case he isn’t entirely correct – Fulham certainly weren’t horsing about when they reached and narrowly lost the 2010 final to Atletico Madrid, although it is arguable that no-one outside West London and parts of the United States really cared.
But AVB has a point, although ironically his virtuous attitude towards the Europa League may well have proved Spurs’ undoing.
Tottenham were without their main man, Gareth Bale, because of an injury he picked up in the first leg. It is difficult to see them going out with Bale in the XI, a Bale who was joined on the sidelines by Aaron Lennon – injured in the same game – and Jermain Defoe, whose aggravation of a groin problem is likely to have been precipitated by over-playing.
Tottenham missed a trick in January, that’s for sure, failing to bring in the additional striker they so craved with Defoe always likely to pick up a knock or a strain, and Emmanuel Adebayor unreliable on several fronts, not least his return to the Togo fold.
While Villas-Boas’s attitude is admirable, it is unrealistic. In order to compete domestically and continentally, you must have a double-deep squad, one that has two players at the upper end of average in each position. Spurs do not have such depth at the front end or in the wide attacking positions, and that is where they have been picking up the injuries.
It’s all very well giving the fickle English public something to chew on, but Spurs simply did not have enough food to go round. And that’s without touching on the clear over-reliance on Bale, which they will need to balance if Spurs are to properly compete in the Champions League next season, presuming they qualify.
As it stands, Tottenham’s failure in the January transfer window means that, while they have drawn the public’s attention to the Europa League, Chelsea are now ‘our’ only hope. And that is arguably worse than having to arbitrarily back Fenerbahce or Basel in the latter stages.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"We've our own audience of people we have to satisfy. There is a bind for all parts of English football and something we have to get to very carefully in a very measured way. We wouldn't necessarily get to the same solution as UEFA. It's not a race to be first past the post, we'll do it at our own pace in our own way.
"These are very serious matters and I couldn't feel more strongly about discrimination. It's a strong penalty for sure but I wouldn't say it's too harsh."
FA chairman David Bernstein hints that UEFA’s proposed 10-match ban may well just be a starting point for the FA’s upcoming mandatory punishment for racism. Yikes!
Lazio’s exit to Fenerbahce means it is the first time that no Italian side has reached a European club semi-final for three years in a row. You may laugh but, with only Chelsea reaching the semis of the Europa League and both Manchester clubs failing to make a significant dent in Europe for two seasons in a row, England is not that far off.
Friday’s are often fairly quiet for fans of English football, so in addition to our previews of domestic and European matches to come, you can also feast yourselves on the second round of the Masters as Tiger Woods seeks to stamp his regained authority on the golf world. We will be covering that here.
Reda Maher – on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport
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