Can you lose your European pedigree?
Decades of dining at the top table of European competition, duking it out with the zenith of club football. It gives a club a credence, an allure. It allows a club to build a brand, something the business that football has become makes mandatory.
Constant presence at the top also makes them far more palatable to talent, talent that makes it far easier for clubs to extend their reservation at the most exclusive tournament.
Why would a player choose to join a club not taking part where the best of the best are represented? Players themselves are becoming brands, and while money talks – so clubs not currently plying their trade in Europe always have a slim chance of snaring a big name – the majority of the time when a star becomes available, the club that is battling in the Champions League is predominantly the more attractive option.
Arsenal have not been in the Champions League for two seasons now, and the fight to avoid a third season hangs on a knife-edge. The Europa League offers arguably the more enjoyable campaign, as the Gunners have a real chance of holding aloft the trophy come May. But the Champions League talks big, and players want to hear that famous anthem on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, rather than watching on TV.
Arsenal took part in the Champions League for twenty consecutive seasons. We were mainstays in the competition, and for a long time we belonged in the first pot of seeds. Our decline from contention in the Premier League also coincided with our fall from grace on the biggest stage, and the last eight or so seasons of taking part in the top competition in football was more about taking the cheque rather than having any serious notion of winning it.
Consecutive Last-16 exits cemented Arsenal’s label as an attractive option for ballers, but far from the cream of the crop. Embarrassing exits to Bayern Munich and Barcelona only served to underline us as 2nd class, watching on as the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, Chelsea, Atletico and Juve all fought it out for the grand prize.
Now, we are on the verge of re-joining the competition. Would most of us not want to remain in the Europa League? The excitement of reaching the business end of the tournament, knowing that each time our name pops out of the hat means we have a real chance of lifting the thing?
The Champions League though, is mandatory for progress. Like it or not, the beast that it has become means that the money generated from even a group stage exit means more than winning the entire Europa League trophy.
This means little to us in the stands and watching at home. The problem is however, that the longer we continue to stand outside, pressed up to the window but not involved means we drift further from the pack.
It means finding rough diamonds like Matteo Guendouzi becomes imperative, as the real big names want what we can’t provide.
A third season outside the Champions League won’t harm us too badly. Our profit margins will remain healthy and we can concentrate on a real push for a better position in the Premier League. should we prioritise that over the Europa League? Perhaps, but our squad is deep and talented enough to be able to fight on more than one front. We can focus on both. We should put a real push for the top four at the front of every season, it is far from beyond us.
Arsene Wenger once said that the top four is almost like a trophy, and the majority of us scoffed. With football as cutthroat as it is right now, his words have never been truer.
Our recent FA Cup wins meant the world to us, but a failure to reach the Champions League in the near future would mean that trophies would become even more scarce.