The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
The format of the UEFA Cup is something that makes sense to me only in the neighbor-of-my-brain way of certain advanced math concepts—I “know what it is,” but that doesn’t mean I can “do” it. We said hello on the street a few times, but then it was like we mutually decided not to pursue the friendship, and now it lingers on in my memory like an encyclopedia article you read when you were eleven, which you never quite forget even though your mind zooms in on a picture of a corncob pipe or a feathered hat and leaves out all the death dates.
So it’s with a sense of losing knowledge I never quite had in the first place that I contemplate today’s announcement from the UEFA Executive Committee (“changing everything in football in discrete 48-hour bursts separated by several years”) that it’s revising the format of the UEFA Cup and—more disorientingly still—giving it a new name. Say hello to the UEFA Europa League, splashing off on a Zeus near you in 2009-10.
The format change, which will see the tournament adopt a 48-team group stage, is being more or less ignored by the media in favor of the update to the competition’s name and image, and I think that’s just about right. Unlike the European Championship, which is also being gerrymandered by the Executive Committee this week, the UEFA Cup couldn’t possibly matter less to anyone in the world, so the question of whether UEFA can inject it with a new identity does, from a certain logo-noticing, iPod-caring-about perspective, naturally precede the question of what people will see if they buy into it. As Richard suggests, however, it’s hard to get too fired up about an approach that, in pure corporate synergese, wants us to get excited about the rebranding effort itself (centralised marketing of broadcast rights! a presenting sponsor! an official matchball! why, it’s just like the Champions League!) without bothering to tell us what the new brand is supposed to represent.
The one clue they offer that they want the tournament to mean something is a statement about “teams from emerging countries or lesser-known sides” mounting a challenge to “the old order”. But isn’t that the one identity that the tournament can’t possibly project? The “old order” won’t be playing in the Europa League: it will be off in the Champions League, taking no notice of what happens in the junior tournament. Teams in the Europa League, simply by virtue of being in the Europa League, are structurally barred from challenging the old order in any way at all. You could even say they’re implicitly upholding it.
The way to make the Europa League appealing would be to give it an African Cup of Nations-like atmosphere of fun and excitement: good games not beleaguered by crushing stakes and millions of years of stodginess. It has to be worth watching in itself, not because of some heavily contextualized sense of its nudging effect on eon-spanning hierarchies. UEFA have taken exactly the opposite approach, and it’s hard to see the Europa League being any more successful than its predecessor as long it’s selling a goal that conflicts with the second-tier character of its premise.
Actually, though, the image update seems pretty dismal even taken on its own terms. The logo looks like a user-created spell icon for World of Warcraft, and the new name only underscores the sense that UEFA’s real purpose is to sow needless semantic confusion through all the fields of the world. The Europa League, brought to you by the Union of Football Associations of Europe. If the winner of the Champions League gets the European Cup, does the winner of the Europa League get the Championean Cup?
At least it’s euphonious, I guess. My three-year-old niece and I spent some time last week making up stories about a mermaid named Maria Miranda. I think UEFA Europa was her sister.
by Brian Phillips · September 26, 2008