With Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Cardiff City and Manchester United failing to secure a point against Liverpool, Everton leapfrogged the Red Devils into sole occupation of 6th place in the Premier League.
It’s a position that, if Everton is to maintain over the next eight weeks, will put the Toffees into the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League. The achievement is one that divides opinion and following Saturday’s win, Everton defender Sylvain Distin made his thoughts heard.
“It’s mixed feelings because you can’t say no to playing in Europe,” Distin said. “As a player it’s impossible to not want that but it’s completely different from the Champions League in terms of finances for the club. It’s a lot of travel and you need a big squad.”
Finances are a major part of Europa League opposition as rewards from the Champions League are generally five times greater. While a group-stage victory in the Europa League will earn a club $279,000 a comparable victory in the Champions League makes a team $1.4 million. Similarly, a semi-final purse in the Europa League will hand a club $1.4 million while a victory on the big stage earns a team nearly $7 million.
The lengthy travel is another well documented issue. Flying to the likes of Lithuania and Turkey on a Thursday only to turn around and play a Premier League match three days later takes a big toll on players.
Distin continued: “Yes, it would be amazing for the club and for the fans to be back in Europe again but for the team, if we’re not going to have a much bigger squad next season, it could be tough. When you play every Thursday and come back on the Friday before playing again on the Sunday it is hard.”
‘Hard’ is certainly what the Europa League has been on English clubs of late. Since the tournament’s inception in 2009, only four of the 12 teams who have competed in the Europa League qualified for Europe in that same season.
Lately, the tournament has been particularly destructive. In 2012, Alan Pardew was named LMA manager of the year after helping Newcastle finish fifth but yet one year later his job was in peril when the club finished 16th in the Premier League, avoiding relegation by a mere five points. In 2013, Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City side won the League Cup and finished an impressive 9th in the league but one Europa League campaign later and the Dane was out of a job.
The flip side, of course, was the incredible Europa League run that Fulham enjoyed in 2009/10, losing in the finals 2-1 to Atletico Madrid. The stunning campaign was a joy to watch for everyone at Fulham and one that didn’t majorly compromise their Premier League season as they finished in 12th place.
For a relatively small squad like Everton, the Europa League would require a number of summer purchases. This would mean that, assuming owner Bill Kenwright continues with his typical summer budget of $10-15 million, rather than buying one to two players he’ll be forced to spend that amount on four or five new bodies. It’s a scenario with the strong potential to both dilute the level of play while also sacrificing points domestically.
Nevertheless it’s a challenge that, despite Distin’s well-founded fears, Everton should happily take on. It’s been six years since the Toffees last competed in Europe and for a club that hasn’t finished outside the Premier League Top 8 in the last eight years, the possibility of European glory far outweighs the potential for domestic doom.