Everton have just taken a 2-0 lead over Sporting Lisbon in their Europa League round-of-32 clash, and while I’m enjoying this semi-important fixture over a late breakfast prior to Manchester United taking on an awfully familiar face in the far more exalted Champions League, the Guardian’s Rob Smyth and Scott Murray offer a scathing critique of the lesser competition ; “look, they’ve ruined the Euro Vase, too!”
Rebranded last summer as Euro Mug – now an earthenware product designed to hold large quantities of piping-hot liquid manure, the name an arch nod to the poor punters across the continent who once had three perfectly serviceable competitions to enjoy – the tournament this week resumes with the Stage of Meh.
This is about the time it used to get good, with English teams excited about their chances of European glory. However thanks to Uefa’s constant meddling, insisting on turning the tournament into an ill-designed bloated mess, excitement is low: Liverpool players have been notoriously sniffy about it since being expelled from Big Cup, while Fulham’s Roy Hodgson is rumoured to be simply not bothered, as he’d rather stay at home and finish the JP Donleavy novel he’s halfway through.
Only Everton have the good grace to sound like they’re enjoying it. “It’s going to be unbelievable,” says Mikel Arteta. “It’s a great chance for us and we need to go through.” His manager too is oop f’coop. “We have embraced the competition and gone into every game trying to win,” says David Moyes. “There have not been any games where we’ve said we’ll save players for the Premier League.” And so what do Uefa do? Insist their tie is played at 5.45pm on a Tuesday evening, when fans are still coming home from work, just to avoid a TV clash with a couple of Big Cup games nobody cares about. Well done, Uefa! Well done, clowns!