A Little Preamble
Around this time last year I started my Champions League final report with this well known phrase from Sir Alex Ferguson.
Football eh? Bloody hell!
So now I will paraphrase this to give it even more meaning to the majority who may see fit to read this.
The Europa League is an interesting beast. Primarily because it’s not a beast at all. For much of the developed world (at least in terms of football), it ranks somewhere below the Reserves and above the U-12s in importance. The origins of this sad state of affairs are very much open to debate and undoubtedly involve UEFA, the growth of national leagues and, ultimately, money. I’m not an expert of this particular (or any other, for that matter) part of our modern footballing history, so I’ll refrain from speculating any further. What I do know is that I remember a time, and I’m still quite young, when the UEFA Cup meant something. It meant a lot, actually. And don’t forget the Cup Winners’ Cup. European football was diverse, competitive and didn’t involve the dreaded Thursday nights. The teams that were fighting for the aforementioned trophies weren’t second-rate obscure mid-table sides. They just happened to be less fortunate in their respective leagues the year before, but were still proper teams, hungry for European glory, which back then, in the days when the Champions League wasn’t the monopoly it now is, meant blood, sweat and prestige. I can still very much remember those UEFA Cup winners (and runners-up, and some really great matches), while I can’t tell you who triumphed in the last Europa League if I had a gun to my head. Right now the tournament is nothing more than a subject of jokes from rival fans. And the Blues are in it this year, if only to remind dear old Paulo Ferreira what a football pitch outside of Cobham looks like.
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “There had been the familiar murmurings of discontent from a minority of those in the stands when Fernando Torres’ name was announced prior to kick-off here, though by the end Chelsea were delighted to have him. The Spaniard has enjoyed so few outings like this since his British record move from Merseyside but, with his face masked as if he had come incognito, Rubin Kazan found him unrecognisable from the player who has spluttered so often over the last two years. His team have a two-goal lead to take to Moscow, and Torres has a brace to savour.”
We know what we were…
Cue the anti-Rafa chants as Yossi Benayoun’s name lit up on the stadium’s LED screens. It’s Europa League time again, and Marko Marin was licking his lips in anticipation. He probably joined the fans’ jeers after realising even he hadn’t been selected to start. Fernando Torres was brought into the first eleven however, whilst Juan Mata had four defenders to keep him company on the bench.