My Two Hundred Dinars: Manchester United in the Europa League

Posted on December 9, 2011


Why the Europa League isn’t the end of the world for Manchester United.

On Wednesday evening, Manchester United suffered a 2-1 defeat in Basel, a result which saw them knocked out of the Champions League at the group stages. For a club that prides itself on being this country’s best, and one with a great recent record in Europe’s premier club competition, this is widely being seen as a disaster. The financial implications of such a situation are already being widely touted, with the media pushing potential losses in the region of 20 million pounds. For a club that is being pushed out of the big money transfer market by city rivals Manchester City, as well as other clubs from around the continent, this is not a good thing. What wednesday showed was that the squad just is not good enough, and the lack of champions league football will make quality strengthening in January very tough. Would Wesley Sneijder give up a crack at another champions league this season to head to the Europa League? I think not. With City also running away with the premier league, another Champions League run would have been a bright point in what might be a frustrating season for Alex Ferguson. But is playing in the Europa League a complete disaster? Believe it or not, I think it might be a good thing for this side. Here is why.

First of all, and I know that personal accolades are not at the forefront of the minds of the great, but Alex Ferguson has never won the UEFA Cup/Europa League. He has 2 Champions League titles and 2 Cup Winners Cups, but no UEFA Cup. To my mind and please, correct me if I’m wrong, but no manager has ever won all of the continental trophies. If this Europa League campaign proves to be a success, Ferguson could add yet another accolade to his incredible career, being the first manager to win all 3 of the trophies, as well as the Super Cup. It is a given that in 100 years Ferguson will be regarded as one of the greatest, but this would put him yet another rung above his peers. Plus, in a season where City look like they might waltz the league, success in Europe would provide the trophy that Manchester United demand. At the end of the day, winning a competition is winning a competition, and trophies talk. Just ask Arsenal fans.

Also, and more importantly, playing in the Europa League might just be perfect for this squad. I would not go so far as to say that United are in a period of transition, but it would also be foolish to say this squad is as good as it can be. Looking at the side that played on Wednesday, there are a number of players from back to front that are at the beginning of their careers, players who are dealing in potential. David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Danny Wellbeck, Federico Macheda, all players who lack big European experience. Expecting them to come in and do the same job as Edwin Van Der Sar, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy and the like is just wishful thinking. Add other squad players like Tom Cleverley, and you have some serious inexperience. Let’s call a spade a spade, the Europa League is as important as the Carling Cup to the bigger European sides, and this environment could prove vital to the development of these young players. If United had drawn in Switzerland, gone through as group runners up and then drawn Real Madrid in the next round and been slaughtered, this could be a negative experience for them. As it is, they will be seeded in the next round of the Europa League, and grinding out a gritty win away at Legia Warsaw, Rubin Kazan or Steaua Bucharest would prove more valuable to young players finding their way in Europe. They can almost be eased into European competition and get a feel for winning in Europe, something that is just as important. A winning mentality spreads.

Basically, what the squad seems to lack is experience. A good run in the Europa League would provide this for United’s fringe players, as well as invaluable experience playing in some of the cauldrons of the continent. Looking at the clubs who will join them in the round of 32, this is a very winnable competition. Manchester United, and their fans in particular, would be foolish to view this drop as a complete disaster. On the contrary, it could prove to be absolutely vital to the develpment of their squad.