Champions League? How boring. Real Madrid always wins anyway. The Europa League is different: football still tells wildly romantic stories here. Like those of the fearless Frankfurter Eintracht, who taught the great to fear.
One of Franz Beckenbauer’s many talents is mixing words into poison. A poison that takes effect suddenly and yet lasts for a long time, sometimes for decades. When the German national team managed by Beckenbauer became world champions in 1990, he announced that the team was “unbeatable for years” and resigned from his coaching position. Each of his successors would now have to fail – which coach only wins and never loses?
Beckenbauer poured out a similarly devastating sentence over the Uefa Cup. This is a “Losers’ Cup”, only the Champions League counts, Beckenbauer decreed. A complete competition, canceled in just a few words.
Pure football romance
But Beckenbauer was wrong, the Uefa Cup, now called the Europa League, has developed into a highly attractive competition. It’s just not a round of the beaten and failed. That could be seen again on Wednesday evening when Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Glasgow Rangers in the final. Even though Rafael Borré from Frankfurt only converted the decisive penalty to make it 5:4 shortly before midnight, nobody’s eyes should have closed. It was a rousing, competitive game that the Scots could just as deservedly have won.
The Europa League has long since emancipated itself – it writes stories that have not been heard from the Champions League for a long time. The self-proclaimed premier class is an almost closed society; money really scores goals here. In the past eight years, Real Madrid has won four titles, one of the most solvent and at the same time most indebted football clubs in the world.
Frankfurt and Glasgow, on the other hand, went to the Europa League final with players whose names are not yet well known. The 2022 final was one for football romantics, for those who believe anything is possible if eleven friends stand close enough together on the pitch. Who hadn’t they beaten en route to the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Seville? Eintracht defeated the big FC Barcelona and West Ham United, Glasgow prevailed against Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig. All clubs that have more money and finer feet.
Longing becomes reality in the Europa League
The people of Frankfurt know only too well that such triumphs also have their downsides. In 2018 they beat the big FC Bayern in the DFB Cup final – and a little later they were rid of their best men. Coach Niko Kovac went to Bayern Munich; forwards Luka Jovic, Sebastien Haller and Ante Rebic later joined Real Madrid, West Ham and AC Milan. The Europa League is not a reserve, the mechanisms of the market also take effect here.
But on some evenings revolutionism wins, the black flag of anarchy flies and you can look back to a time when football was even more unruly, smelled of turf and the world seemed to be a better one altogether.
Feeding those dreams with images is the true legacy of the Europa League. Eintracht Frankfurt and Glasgow Rangers have delivered the best material, at least for one summer, before the World Cup takes place in Qatar in November and everything is different and wrong again.