Eintracht Frankfurt versus Glasgow Rangers – what on paper sounds like a pre-season friendly is the final of the Europa League. And it’s a resounding slap in the face for all the money and technocracy in modern football.
18 minutes and eight seconds had been played when referee Jesus Manzano reached into his breast pocket in the Europa League semi-final between Eintracht Frankfurt and West Ham United. A quick pointer to London left-back Aaron Creswell, the red card between index finger and thumb. This small piece of plastic was the final piece of the puzzle that completed the Eintracht picture this season. While the fans screamed as if they had already won the game, even the last spectator realized: this madness will not end tonight. Eintracht will win the game. Eintracht will advance to their first final since 1980 – because that’s how the sport works – because that’s how it all makes sense.
Europa League Final: Two underdogs become kings of Europe
This journey of the Frankfurters – as unexpected as it is exciting – ends in Seville. It was bound to happen. The story was too good: 30,000 Frankfurters in Barcelona, the dream goal by Ansgar Knauff, Daichi Kamada, who became Mister Europe with his goals, defense boss Martin Hinteregger, who injured himself after just a few minutes in the second leg of the semi-finals – this team in general , which so often disappointed in the Bundesliga – and suddenly showed a different face when the floodlights went on on Thursday evening.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s Europa League season is a fairy tale for football romantics. For people who had actually renounced this sport, or at least the commerce in it, a long time ago. Because money does score goals and you can no longer win a title without a large investor behind you – especially not on the international stage. The people of Frankfurt punished all this with lies.
And then there would be the opponent. Because there is only one opponent between Eintracht and what the older ones among us still affectionately call the “Uefa Cup”. And that’s not RB Leipzig or FC Barcelona, not Borussia Dortmund or FC Sevilla, but this traditional club from Scotland, which most people would not have believed internationally before the season: Glasgow Rangers.
From bankruptcy and forced relegation to the fourth Scottish league, Rangers’ path led to the second biggest game in European football within ten years. A finale becomes a kitsch war. If this Europa League season had been a Hollywood script, it would probably have been rejected.
The story of the two underdogs who stand against the overpowering of the industry. Their game is often more combat than art, driven by an irrepressible will to create the impossible. With conviction against the art of playing, with toughness against Tikki-Takka – and that too successfully. It’s almost too chewy. And yet an important signal for an entire industry.
Frankfurt and Glasgow show that football is not yet completely ruled by money
At a time when a few clubs spend more money on a single player than most on their entire squad. At a time when an association has succumbed to the lure of the bills and is hosting a World Cup in a desert country that has just as little to do with football as it does with human rights. At a time when the sums paid for the broadcasting rights of the leagues are more important than the fans in the stadium, a final between Eintracht Frankfurt and Glasgow Rangers is a resounding slap in the face for modern football.
The teams are an alternative to the glossy product that Uefa has made of its competitions for years. They embody the basic virtues that have been forgotten in the magic football of many top teams: struggle, dedication, work. Not always nice to look at, but definitely authentic.
It doesn’t matter who raises the pot tonight – the winners are already certain before the game: the fans, the soccer romantics and the hope that king soccer is not yet completely ruled by money.