Just A Small Club In Europe

CaughtOffside‘s reader-submitted coverage of the Premiership’s venture into European competition continues as Richard takes a look at the distraction of the UEFA cup

19th in the Premier League, scored one goal all season, no wins, conceded 4 penalties, injury ravaged and low in confidence – do Blackburn Rovers really need the ‘distraction’ of the UEFA Cup?

The Uefa Cup gets underway this week with the inclusion of Tottenham, West Ham, Newcastle and Blackburn, and fans of these clubs would surely enjoy a trip up to Glasgow on 16th May next year for the final at Hampden Park. Or would they? Only four months ago each of these clubs were desperate to gain qualification to this competition, but now as the first matches approach is it still the priority that it once was? Spurs, Rovers and the Magpies have hardly been playing the most scintillating of football this season. In fact with the good form of Everton, Portsmouth or even Aston Villa, a mid-table finish may be the best they can hope for.

Do Blackburn really need the trip to the Wals Siezenheim Stadium in Austria this week to play on an artificial pitch? Does Martin Jol really savour the journey to the Czech Republic? Will Glenn Roeder be impressed by the three-time Estonian champions FC Levadia Tallinn? Or can anyone write about West Ham anymore, without mentioning Carlos Tevez at least once?

Mark Hughes has always been an advocate that success in cup competitions breeds confidence for the league campaign. So much so that last season, as Arsene Wenger was sending out a team of under-12 girls to face Doncaster in the League Cup, Craig Bellamy was busy single-handedly defeating Leeds at Ewood Park. Hughes said after the game:

“I want to progress in this competition and think it is better to start with your strongest side.”

Surely there seems no point in spending all year trying to qualify for the Uefa Cup only to send out a weakened side. Blackburn fans will be only too aware of this scenario – this was a tactic Graeme Souness specialised in. The Scot failed to improve on Blackburn’s European record of having played 16 matches and won only 1 game.

Ask any Middlesbrough fan and they will tell you that the Uefa Cup provides some great European nights. The excitement of their European campaign last season had fans of all clubs cheering them on as they came from behind against both Steaua Bucharest and FC Basel. The big wigs at the FA must surely have been impressed, as they deemed this important enough to hail Steve McClaren as the ‘number one choice’ to become England manager.

Of course the Premier League is always going to be more important for managers and fans, but a European fixture creates that little bit of excitement that you don’t get with an away trip to face Charlton. When else, as a Blackburn fan, would you get to see European greats like Giovanni Trapattoni and Lothar Matthaus in the opposition dug-out. I for one, will be hoping for victory against Red Bull Salzburg and progression into the group stages.