PAT NEVIN: EURO VISION
A veteran of watching matches in the Europa League and its earlier incarnation, columnist Pat Nevin discusses the competition Chelsea are about embark upon…
Another week where news is not hard to find at Chelsea but this time most of it is pretty good.
First the win at the weekend and four goals was just what was needed with the likes of Everton, Spurs and Arsenal breathing down our necks in the league. Well done to the team for that one.
Congratulations also obviously must go to John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and Kenneth Omeruo as they were each influential in Nigeria lifting the Africa Cup of Nations. On top of that Mikel and Moses are now on the way back to bolster a squad that was certainly stretched in their absence. With David Luiz available again, JT also working back to full fitness and Demba Ba managing to make himself available even with a rearranged face, there are finally a few options in the squad.
Those options will be needed as the cup ties come thick and fast and the fight to stay in the top four heats up. Last season obviously could have been a nightmare if we hadn't won the Champions League final, so this time there is officially no room for error.
When I say nightmare I mean financially because unlike some folk I actually enjoy the Europa League each season. Of course I would rather Chelsea were in the Champions League still, but having covered the Europa League and the UEFA Cup before it for 15 years with Channel 5 TV here in the UK, I don't have the superiority complex many have towards the competition.
On the downside, football snobs only have interest in the biggest prizes and think anything else is beneath them. There are plenty who feel that way and good luck to them, everyone is entitled to an opinion. As a player however I would have been delighted to have got to the final of what was then the UEFA Cup, unfortunately most of my career was blighted by a ban on English clubs playing in Europe. The idea of a trip to Sparta Prague would have certainly got me interested and to be fair it still does, it also seems to interest the rest of Europe as well.
I always found it very interesting travelling around the continent to find that the only country that was largely sneering towards the Europa League was England. I would turn up to games in Madrid, Bilbao, Amsterdam, Porto etc. and the locals would be seriously up for it. Back in Blighty it sometimes felt like an encumbrance. Yes I understand the Premier League will come first and the pressure of the number of games and the intensity does pressure English clubs, but they have more money to start with than other European sides, so they should have better squads, so why moan on when your opponents are just happy to be there in European competition?
One of the other things I like more about the Europa League than the Champions League is that you do not necessarily, with any level of certainty, know who is going to be in the last four every season. The Champions League semi-finals will almost always be from Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern, Man Utd, Chelsea, a Milan club and maybe another English club if you're lucky. Once in a blue moon a Schalke or a Villarreal will get in, i.e. once each of them in the last seven seasons, but generally it is a closed shop.
The Europa League is more open even if Spanish and Portuguese sides have dominated of late. I think there is a reason for that however and it is nothing more than they take it totally seriously whereas the English generally do not- apologies to Stoke City and Fulham fans, whose teams were definitely up for it. Just look at the careers that have been launched from this competition, Mourinho and Villas-Boas were both huge beneficiaries of winning this tournament. Even a look at the final in the last few seasons would have opened a few eyes to Radamel Falcao, eyes that were maybe too focused on the Champions League.
I hope the jaunt to Prague isn't Chelsea's last this season in the Europa League, I hope the fans and the team embrace it. For me there is no embarrassment with being involved in the Europa League, though I am sometimes embarrassed by those who think they are somehow above it. As a player I can honestly say if you gave me losing semi-finalist in the Champions League or a winner's medal in the Europa League, I would take the latter. In fact a silver medal in the Champions League compared to gold in the Europa and I am still with the Europa. Surprising maybe, but there is nothing like celebrating winning a trophy for the players and the fans, which certainly wouldn't be beneath me!
Last week I asked an interesting quiz question and I knew it would be pretty difficult, but I can't seem to beat you lot. I asked, have two Chelsea players ever scored in the same England match, for opposing teams. If so name them and the match? I was impressed that one or two mentioned the international tie in 2008 between Serbia and France where Ivanovic and Anelka scored for the opposing national sides of Serbia and France, but that wasn't of course England.
A few also suggested that both John Terry and Andriy Shevchenko scored in the World Cup qualifier between England and Ukraine at Wembley on 01 April 2009, which England won 2-1. A good call because although at Milan at the time Sheva was only on loan from us.
One other good answer was Joe Cole and an Ashley Cole own goal in a 2-2 draw for England with the Czech Republic on 20 August 2008 at Wembley. Milan Baros was credited with Ash's goal but our full back certainly (unfortunately) deflected it into his own net.Of the mere 31 correct answers this week, the lucky winner chosen at random is Tom Rumbelow from Beckenham, Kent.
This time it is just a little easier I trust. Who were the first and the last players to score for Chelsea in a recognised European club tournament? The most recent is pretty easy, but the other might need just a little digging, I wonder how many of you know both answers off the top of your heads without googling?
Answers to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and the lucky winner randomly chosen will receive a winner of a Munich Champions League final picture signed by one of the players.