For many, it was fair game for years. A laugh-inducing tool of procrastination, poking fun at our neighbours whilst looking down our noses from the highest of perches – the Champions League.
‘Thursday is Spursday’ was a typical favourite, and we all took part in dishing out digs, whilst we engaged in brandy and cigars with the power people in rooms behind closed doors. The Champions League is the desire of all teams who aspire to glory, and it was hilarious that tottenham continually missed out.
Eventually though, our grip loosened. The membership card we had for this exclusive soiree expired. We looked on at the entrance as the former butt of our jokes flashed a smug grin and was welcomed in.
The roles have been reversed, and the only door that is open for us is the Europa League – the very destination that generated hilarious memes and jokes aimed squarely at spurs.
Should we take this tournament a little more seriously however?
The Europa League’s stock has risen in recent years, through many different factors. Firstly, the number of Champions League-worthy teams has risen as money has poured into European football. A plethora of rivals in every domestic competition – none more so than the Premier League – means it is harder than ever to force our way into Europe’s premiere competition.
It has also helped that UEFA has decided to grant the winner of the Europa League a spot in the Champions League.
It has resulted in this 2nd class tournament elevating itself in its standing. Plus, with recent winners being Chelsea and Manchester United, if it is good enough for them, why can’t it be good enough for us to at least take seriously?
Whilst we see our team amongst the hierarchy in terms of European clubs, in terms of honours, we flag behind our esteemed brethren.
If we gauge in terms of European honours, then our Fairs Cup win in 1970 and our Cup Winners Cup triumph in 1994 are our sole baubles, on a tree that is sorely lacking in decorations.
Of course, it could have been so different if Paris had gone a little different, or even Copenhagen in 2000. Alas, it wasn’t to be, but what is clear is that our club needs to add to our accolades, especially in European competition.
The Champions League has been the table we have dined at for decades, and yet can we say it has been an enjoyable experience in the last ten years? Entering a place where you know you have a strict time limit before you are unceremoniously dumped out the door?
No, it hasn’t been fun at all. Thumpings at the hands of the clubs we claim to want to stand toe-to-toe with, which only serve to highlight the gulf in between us.
The Europa League gives us a chance to be the big fish for once, rather than swimming in a pond, fearful of being eaten with every movement.
The competition is more hotly contested than ever, but we should be able to progress to the latter stages whilst simultaneously rotating our squad to deal with the more important Premier League fixtures. Let us not get twisted here, the Premiership should be our main focus, but there is no reason why we cannot fight on two fronts.
There will be difficulties of course. The fixture scheduling will take some getting used to, playing on a Thursday and then the following Sunday/Monday will be a task that requires all the skills of the myriad of backroom staff we currently employ. We have the squad to do it though.
Our group stage consists of BATE Borisov, FC Koln and Red Star Belgrade. Two difficult away trips, but there should be nothing there that should outwit us. Players such as Jack Wilshere, Reiss Nelson, David Ospina, Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud have all been used sparingly this season, and they have more than enough in their locker to match and surpass these teams.
We currently do not have enough in our trophy cabinet to snub this competition. The Europa League, if we won it, would be one of the finest triumphs in our history. We have some amazing memories, but in terms of European honours, we could really do with this trophy in our cabinet.
If we were lucky enough to do so, then the European Super Cup beckons, and also, the Champions League again.
There could be some glittering memories made under the floodlights in The Emirates during a successful run to the final.
Our stadium sorely needs things like this, as the shadow of Highbury still looms over it.