When in charge of Southampton last season, Mauricio Pochettino repeatedly dismissed the Europa League and spoke of his dislike for the tournament.
Since taking over at Tottenham Hotspur the Argentina manager has performed a dramatic U-turn. There is a reason for it.
That’s because the first time in the tournament’s history, this seasons Europa League winner will get an automatic spot in next years UEFA Champions League tournament. With the top four of the Premier League so tight and Spurs on the cusp of breaking into it time and time again, winning the Europa League could actually be their best chance of making it back to Europe’s elite club competition for the first time since 2010.
Spurs kick off their Europa League campaign with a a qualifier away in Cyrpus against AEL Limassol on Thursday.
Pochettino has selected an almost full strength squad for the first leg and ahead of the match this is how he now views the Europa League.
“The Europa League now gives the possibility to play in the Champions League and it’s now a more interesting competition than before,” Pochettino said. “Before, if you won the Europa League you never had that chance – but now, with that change, it’s a more interesting competition. But it’s only one more chance – you still have the Premier League and our aim is to win every competition. We’re taking it game by game.”
In conclusion, Tottenham are taking the Europa League seriously this season.
Last year they lost to eventual finalists Benfica in the round of 16, the year before that they were knocked out in the quarterfinals to FC Basel. With a young squad determined to get to the top and a manager ambitious to play in the Champions League as soon as possible, can Pochettino juggle Europa League and Premier League commitments this season?
One thing for sure is that, unlike the past, he’s committed to European soccer’s second-tier competition. But only because it provides a gateway to the Champions League.