Friday December 3 2010
League of strain

As three Italian sides drop out at the group stages, Rob Paton looks at the Europa League's future

Juventus, Sampdoria and Palermo all dropped out of the Europa League this week at the group stages fielding weakened sides, reflective of where their priorities currently lay.

There are too many factors that do not play in Italian clubs' favour to progress – extra fixtures, long trips, less recovery time before weekend games. Napoli (five points), Palermo (eight), Samp (nine) and Juve (seven) have all dropped significantly more points than Milan and Inter (both four) on weekends off the back of European games.

Those participating in the Europa League do not have the squad sizes to realistically compete in two competitions, so Coaches are prioritising.

UEFA's anticipated Financial Fair Play ruling – set to come in from 2011-12 – should signal an indirect refocus. With clubs forced to minimise annual deficits to €45m and cover money spent on players with internally generated revenue, money earned in European competition suddenly becomes a little more significant as another source of legitimate income.

As well as guaranteeing continued emphasis on Champions League qualification, it suddenly places the Europa League as a secondary route to guarantee a competitive level of spending can be assured for Europe's mid-table teams. However, whilst it should boost interest, the amount on offer barely raises an eyebrow – last season's winners Atletico Madrid collected just €6.5m.

With a new Serie A television package set to come into effect also for 2011-12 – guaranteeing those mid-table teams likely to be involved in the Europa League an increased income off the back of a fairer rights deal, with added income based on League position – the Europa League may be even less of a priority for Italy's Coaches.

UEFA could increase the prize money for the Europa League and get teams in Italy, England and Spain – the ones with the lucrative television audience behind them – interested and competitive. Indeed, the FFP ruling may put pressure on them to do this to avoid the competition falling apart entirely. If UEFA restrict avenues clubs can take to earn revenue, keeping prize money disproportionately low to the Champions League and top domestic competition will come into question.

However, increasing the sums available through progression in the Europa League risks marginalising domestic Leagues. Excessive prize money allowing certain teams to build legitimate financial momentum and qualify for Europe year on year contradicts the 'Fair Play' part of the FFP that is meant to bring about a new level of fair domestic competitiveness.

Ultimately, UEFA have two choices – increase prize money and risk contradicting their latest new policy, or leave things as they are and watch the competition's biggest audiences switch off as their clubs drop out before Christmas. Either way, with a revamped Serie A, Italian clubs will continue to enjoy early elimination.

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